PURPOSE: After the students in my success strategies classes had become familiar with the Wise Choices process and DAPPS criteria for goal-setting as described in the On Course text book, I wanted them to develop a self-awareness of what motivates them as people and as students. My experience, especially with my younger students, suggests that their thinking represents a paradox—they are convinced that they are invincible, “that could never happen to me,” but they cannot fathom what they will be doing at 30. “I will live forever, but I can’t imagine being 30?!” I wanted to help bridge that gap if possible.

SUPPLIES/SET UP: This activity requires a handout I developed called “My Lifeline.” It consists of a vertical line through the center of a page of paper. At intervals of 1/4” are horizontal lines intersecting with the vertical line with the first line labeled 0 and the last labeled 80+. Between those two, every 5th line is labeled: 5,10,15,20,etc. Near the top of the left-hand side of the paper is a label “Past Events,” and on the opposite side of the Lifeline is the label, “Future Events.” The other supplies needed are sheets of plain white paper, one for each student and numerous colored markers, pencils, or crayons.


1. We first completed the Lifeline. At my direction, students wrote on the left side of the Lifeline, alongside the corresponding age (number) the important events that have happened to them. I modeled what I would write: “Beside 6, I would write, ‘Began first grade’; beside 7, ‘Sister born’; beside 12, ‘Father died’; beside 13 ‘First confirmation’; etc.”

2. After completing the “Past Events,” I directed students to move to the right side of the line and perform the same activities with their “Future Events.” I again modeled that I would record events such as retirement, building a new home, traveling to Europe, etc. 

3. After the “Future Events” were completed, I asked students to circle the one that is most important to them now.

4. I then instructed them to turn the paper over on the back and, using the DAPPS guidelines (see On Course, Chapter 3), write a goal that would help them achieve that future event. I modeled a goal for myself: “By the summer of 2003, I will have a new home in North Carolina.” Students then shared their goals with a nearby classmate, and volunteers shared them with the entire class.

5. Finally, I asked them to write 3 behaviors they could put into practice this semester that would help them work toward that goal. Again I modeled: “I will look for property in North Carolina; I will begin to research house plans; I will talk to friends who have recently built homes.”

6. After writing the long- and short-term goals, students placed the Lifeline in their Success Portfolios. Both class periods are 50 minutes, so, at the next class meeting, students were asked to copy their long-term goal on the back of the clean sheet of white, unlined paper I distributed.

7. Then I asked them to close their eyes and imagine that their goal had been accomplished. “What does it look like?” I asked. “Where are you; what do your surroundings look like, feel like, smell like?” “Who is there with you?” “What are they doing?” “See the scene clearly in your head.” (2 or 3 minutes of silence.) “Now, open your eyes, but keep that vision in your head.” “Turn your paper over to the clean side, and draw your dream.” I encouraged them by saying that the quality of the artwork is not important and by sharing the picture of my own dreams, which I have framed.

8. I asked for volunteers to share their artwork with the class, explaining their dream. An option here is to ask students to explain how college is a stepping-stone to turning their dream into reality. Once they “experience” this connection, their motivation for doing well in college usually rises.

OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: I am very pleased with everything about this activity. Students responded well even to the drawing. This is the second time I had asked them to draw, and they responded even more favorably this time. Most of the students grew in their ability to write goals even though a few (4 of 40) still are very vague: “All I want to do in the future is be happy.” “I want to have a good job and be happy.” Even these students drew much more specific pictures—one showed himself on a boat, cruising a lake with a group of friends, so we worked backwards; he wrote a more specific goal from the picture. I recently asked the students to write a mid-term letter to me, and, among other ideas, I asked them to tell me which activity we have done was the most meaningful to them. 40% of my students responded that “Draw your Dreams” was most meaningful because it helped them think seriously about what they really want.

LESSONS LEARNED: I was reminded with this assignment that empowerment comes from personalizing activities for students. I will definitely do this again. I will more closely monitor the goals after the dreams are drawn, so that I can potentially help students work backwards to write more specific goals as with the student described above. An aside note of encouragement to others about using this activity: a colleague of mine who is a bit of a skeptic about using “warm fuzzy” activities such as this saw my picture and looked through my students’ pictures. He asked me to describe what prompted the pictures, then responded, “I love it!! This is great.” Later we were in a meeting of our success team and he encouraged me to share “the dream thing.” “Tell them about it; it’s great!” Trust me; that is one super endorsement.

–Sue B. Palmer, Faculty, English and College-Wide Coordinator, Success Strategies, Brevard Community College, FL

Forum Image OptionDrawing Motivation Out of Students Forum