Peacebuilder’s Backpack: Life Maps

Life Maps

By: Nettie Pardue | clock-icon 1 hour-1.5 hours | people-icon 6-15  People | Relationship Building Activity

Miriam flagThis is an activity that we love and that we regularly use on our Practicum on Experiential Peacebuilding (The Practicum) and our Palestinian and Israeli Emerging Leaders program .  We have also used a modified version of this activity with our board members during our annual retreat. This activity works great with groups who will be together for an extended period.



Flags womens's programLEARNING GOALS:

  • To introduce group members to each other
  • To highlight personal narratives within a group
  • To share symbols and metaphors about peace with one another
  • To create a symbol for the group’s community that is visible throughout the program



The purpose of the activity is for participants to introduce themselves to other group members in a visual and creative manner.

Hand each participant a blank sheet /flag. White paper can be substituted if this will be used as an indoor activity.  8×11 inches is a good guide.

Participants are instructed to:

– Write their name on the material provided.

– Using the markers provided, the participant is invited to create a map or drawing of significant events in their life using pictures, symbols, or words. When framing the activity, I am intentionally vague about what life events I want them to share. Let them interpret what they want to share on Day 1 of a program.

– Include a symbol of peace significant to you ( other symbols can be used given the purpose of the group).

– Participants have 15 minutes to create their map.

– After they are completed, they will present their map to the group. Each person gets 2-3 minutes to present.

After presentation is complete the group will string their maps on one piece of cord. The maps can be hung up between trees or on a wall space.

Explain to the group that the maps will travel with the group throughout the expedition  / experience. It is the responsibility of the leaders of the day to make sure the maps get hung in camp.

If the activity is being used at a retreat or a 1 day setting, you might decide to take the maps back to the office or a central location where they can be viewed.

Facilitator Notes:

– This can be a very important tone setting activity for a group. It is important to create a sense of trust within the group at this early stage. Although you want participants to be able to express themselves, the facilitator should keep participants to 2-3 minutes when they are describing their maps.  Try to role model the time limit with the first person. Time management is critical in this activity.

– It is likely that 1-2 participants will use this activity to state political, religious or a personal position on an issue. This is ok, however be mindful of how the group responds and intervene if needed. Remind group members that this is their opportunity to provide information about themselves to the group.

– State “thank you” for sharing at the end of the activity to each person. Provide a moment of silence before transitioning to the next person.

– Facilitators should draw maps, also. The facilitators can present to the group or not, based on time. After 12 participants, people usually need a break. Most of the time I do not present.


Suggested Type of Debrief: Large Group Go Around

Ideas for Debriefing Questions

No debrief is needed on this activity. By the time everyone presents you will need to take a break. If a final wrap up is needed, consider stating or asking one of these:

– If anyone’s story impacted you, feel free to follow up with them and ask any clarifying questions.

– What did you learn about individuals in this group today that you can use during our time together?

– What symbols of peace resonated with you?



– 1-2 old white sheets or pillow cases – 8×11 by inches is a good guide (size can vary)

– Parachute cord or twine

– Colored markers


– Note on cutting sheets: Use the top edge of the sheet that has a natural sewn edge. When you cut the sheet into strips you will have a place to thread the cord through.

– This is a great tone setting activity. Make sure you have adequate time.


Association for Experiential Education
Teamwork & Teamplay
Outward Bound International
Project Adventure – Store


The blog is designed for educators, trainers and facilitators to support experiential peacebuilding practices throughout the world.  It can be applicable for other practioners who are doing group development and leadership work, though we try to frame the activities in a context for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Many of these activities have been modified and developed over time. We try to give credit for each activity that we use and identify the source for inspiration. 

If you like this blog, have feedback or additional ideas, please comment below or email us at nettie.pardue[at] Find us at or on Facebook.