PURPOSE:  I am an English/Success Strategies professor at Brevard Community College, Cocoa, Florida.  Each semester, in both curriculum areas, I begin the semester with an activity during which students introduce themselves to other classmates without embarrassment and still supply some positive insights into their personalities, skills, and interests.  After attending the On Course I Workshop, I wanted to design an activity of introduction that would also begin the process of self-awareness (On Course, Chapter 6).

SUPPLIES: Using AskJeeves.com, I found information about and examples of coats-of-arms I could download, print, and convert to overhead transparencies.  I also made an overhead of the drawing of a shield that was divided into 6 sections.  Each section bore the following information: 

  • Upper left section- “Something you are good at”
  • Upper right section- “Something you are trying to improve”
  • Middle left- “Your most prized material possession”
  • Middle right- “Your most prized non-material possession”
  • Lower left- “Your future career”
  • Lower right- “3 words which describe you”

Each student received a handout with the divided shield without the descriptive words. 


1. After a brief discussion of the history and significance of coats-of-arms or family crests, I directed the students to create their own coat-of-arms using the directions from the overhead.  They were to use only symbols in all quadrants except where directed in the lower right to write the 3 descriptive words.  I reminded students that the three descriptive words that they chose could represent characteristics they do not yet possess but aspire to.

2. I further instructed that all symbols and words should be positive, and the crests should be colorful.  (I provided numerous colored markers.)   I modeled what I would do in each section if I were creating my own coat-of-arms. “In the upper left quadrant, I would have piano keys and musical notes because I am good at playing the piano.  In the upper right section, I would draw an ear because I am trying to improve my listening skills…”

3. After the shields were completed, students divided into groups of 3 or 4 and shared their coats-of-arms as a method of introducing themselves to group members.

4. Finally, I asked each student to take a 3X5 card. (Each student was given a package at the beginning of the term and asked to keep them handy.)  On the card he or she would write an affirmation using the 3 words from the shield that they had used to describe themselves, adding an –ing phrase.  I provided the following model: I am a _____, ______, and _____ person (man, woman, student) who is _ing phrase.  Then I shared my own personal affirmation: “I am a caring, positive, assertive person who is enriching the lives of my friends, family, students, and colleagues.” The coat-of-arms became the decorative cover of the success portfolios they are building, and the 3X5 card was to be placed in a prominent place (mirror, car dash, purse, book bag) so they could repeat their affirmation often.

OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: The activity turned out really well.  The students enjoyed choosing the symbols to use—I observed them sharing ideas with each other when stuck.  Most of them enjoyed the drawing and coloring although one student asked if she could use pictures cut from magazines rather than make her own drawings.  I noticed that many students relaxed as they talked about themselves as they pointed to the visual.  Perhaps they felt that the visual was drawing attention away from themselves.  Several students who had seemed very shy and withdrawn were actually comfortable as they described their shields.  Students shared their shields with others outside their original sharing groups.  The affirmation was not part of the original assignment as I designed it but came about suddenly when I realized we had the adjectives needed to begin the process in the lower right side of the shields. 

LIFE LESSONS:  I learned to have confidence in writing affirmations.  I had thought before trying this exercise that students would not respond favorably, but they did.   I also learned that students enjoy creating with drawings and color—I had worried if they might find that part of the exercise childish.  I will definitely do the activity again, and I would encourage others to consider it as an alternative to the traditional “introduce yourself” exercise.  When I do this activity again, I will consider having students also share their affirmations with another person.  I would also post all the coats-of-arms in the classroom for a few days so students can view others in addition to those in the small sharing group.  I really believe this is a nice beginning to fostering self-awareness, and it was also fun!

Sue Palmer, Faculty, English & Success Strategies, Brevard Community College, FL

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