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How to Help your Students Find Purpose

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Thursday, January 22, 2015
Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Help your Students Find Purpose

By Ann Saylor


By intentionally starting conversations with students using simple questions, we can prompt them to begin to discover their passions and interests.


Young people yearn for life to have significance; they want life to matter. They have energy and a sense of possibility—anything is still possible. One of the greatest gifts we can give students is to help them discover and feed that inner spark that encourages and leads to a purposeful life—the spark that helps them understand themselves more fully and helps them find a way to make the world a better place.


Here are three simple strategies you can try:


ONE: TalkAsk youth questions; get them thinking about passions and interests. You might BE the person who helps them “catch the bug” for (fill in the blank: writing, art, singing, martial arts, making furniture) because you share your enthusiasm and passion for what you love to do. Or, you might BE the person who opens the door and helps them find what truly makes them excited. So, begin the conversation. It doesn’t have to be hard, it can simply be comparing different interests and how much each one matters to you and to them, and why. The conversation can be hidden within an activity to make it fun and engaging.  

Questions you can try:

Is this activity enjoyable to you? Do you have any goals around this? Anything I can do to help? Help them see how they can connect their spark to life; open their eyes to possibilities.
  • If students are good at spelling, encourage them to enter a spelling bee or help a friend study for a spelling test.
  • If they enjoy puzzles and engineering, suggest that they look into “Destination Imagination” or “Odyssey of the Mind.”

Try it by noticing when students light up! 

Watch for situations like these. When you see a student light up, ask pertinent follow-up questions to help them explore their interests and talents.

  • Eric just spent two hours editing video footage and then proudly showed others the resulting five-minute clip.
  • Mary, who has been bored in science, suddenly lights up when you start talking about the ocean.
  • Xavier shines when he gives campus tours to prospective students because he loves relationships and sales. 


TWO: Explore. We can help youth identify their best moments and begin to think about who they are and what makes them tick by creating moments and offering activities to try new things. As you offer activities (field trips, speakers, projects, service opportunities, games...), look for the “hot” spots—those moments where students get excited and sustain that reaction. If possible, offer more opportunities around those spark flashes to further engage young people. 

Try the Sparks Walk activity: 

Have participants sit in a circle of chairs facing each other. There should be one less chair than there are number of people sitting. That extra person stands in the middle and starts the game. Play begins when the circle leader says, “Take a walk if you love to . . .” and completes it by saying something he or she loves to do. (Examples might be “hike,” “travel,” or “play piano.”) Everyone who shares that interest must take a walk and find a new seat in the circle (not an adjacent seat). The person who doesn’t find a new space becomes the new circle leader and calls out the next statement, which must be about something he loves. After playing, talk about sparks, passion and purpose.

THREE: Connect. Once young people have started to explore and discover their own skills, talents, personalities and passions, they need to find ways to put those strengths to work—to create, to invent, and to serve by giving of their talents and energies. Look for ways to connect youth with other supporters and opportunities to further explore and develop their interests. You might connect youth as pen pals, interns, volunteers, lunch buddies, or even virtual conversations. Encourage students to be brave and try new things.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What time do I dedicate for young people to identify and apply their individual interests and passions?
  2. How much time do I set aside for them to explore and take action in the community—through service, social justice and activism?



About the Author: Ann Saylor, with colleague Susan Ragsdale, is author of Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: An Essential Handbook for Working with Youth (2014), which they wrote as a resource for teachers, youth workers, and others who work with young people to foster their flourishing. The book contains a wealth of activities—all with explanations and many with variations—to help build positive relationships and empower young people by helping them know, appreciate, and build on their strengths. The book can be ordered through many online book sellers. See more about Ann and Susan at


Tags:  [Grade: Lower]  [Grade: Middle]  [User Group: Administration]  [User Group: Teachers]  meaning  purpose  spiritual  well-being 

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Comments on this post...

Daniel Penengo says...
Posted Sunday, January 25, 2015
Fun article as well as meaningful. There is always space and place for "talking" in the classroom, or in the halls. It is such a necessity to "philosophize" our curriculums, which I think is what this article is all about. Schools are not always fully invested in the kids, as much as particular teachers, so it is the individual teacher in the individual classroom who can turn on the spark for that kid who is ready to think for themselves.
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