Get to the Root

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Community Partner
Critical Thinking
Needs Assessment
Nonprofit Organization
Problem Solving
Service Learning
Social Action
Social/Cultural Issues
In this activity, students use critical thinking to deconstruct an issue they care about. They identify a problem, explore the root causes and effects, and research who the experts are. This is a great way to build community, use creative expression, and come up with different approaches to the next best steps in the service-learning process.

Root of the Problem is a divergent thinking activity that broadens participants' thinking about the elements of a problem and where the experts are. It's also a great opportunity to use respectful language and generous listening as they work together in small groups, honoring all contributions and expanding on one anothers' ideas. 


  • Chart paper and markers for each group
  • Internet access to look up resources


  1. Move the students into small groups.
  2. First, the group decides what problem they want to talk about. A problem describes what is wrong in the community. Examples: "polluted neighborhood park" or "kids come to school without breakfast" or "third graders can't read." 
  3. The students draw a tree on their chart with bare roots and branches.
  4. By the roots they write several root causes of the problem (no trash cans in the park, people don't respect the natural area, people stay inside).
  5. By the branches, they write several effects of the problem (kids can't focus on work, they are ill often).
  6. Inside bee and butterfly outlines, they write expert resources (organizations, websites, people who know about the problem and solutions).
  7. The groups share their tree brainstorming with the whole class and ask for further ideas and discussion.

Reflection and Next Steps:

Focus on what next best steps we can take right now. This may include the following:

  • meet with nonprofits,
  • investigate the problem and learn more,
  • tell others about the issue or things they can do (be an advocate),
  • volunteer,
  • change habits, or
  • collect resources to help others.

Find Learning to Give lessons related to the identified issues, understanding nonprofits, or advocacy: use search terms related to academic or philanthropy goals, service project ideas, issues, or community resources.