Core Values

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The Core Values Exercise is designed to allow participants an opportunity to explore their personal values on a profound level.  By examining a list of values and ranking each them from “always valued” to “least valued,” participants will engage in serious self-reflection and evaluation.  By the end of the activity, participants will have a chart of core values (those falling in the “always valued” category) that define them.  Additionally, participants will be prompted to share their list of core values with the rest of the group and generate a list of shared values. Doing so will give participants the opportunity to observe others’ core values, and will promote dialogue about any differences present as well as any common values.


  • To help students determine and prioritize their individual values.
  • To learn to appreciate the diversity of values.
  • To prompt students in a discussion about the cultural contexts in which their values emerged and how they learned to pursue some values over others. Students are also prompted to consider the context in which this activity was constructed and how someone from a very different social context might have core values that are not specifically identified in the activity.


This activity includes printable values cards that can be printed and cut up for students to sort into piles according to how they prioritize or deprioritize each value. Alternatively, a list of the values could be projected or distributed for students to use as a word bank that can then be used by each student to fill out their values map. A follow-up discussion to debrief the activity and related it your class learning goals is recommended. Below you will find a guide for leading this activity and some suggested discussion questions to help students debrief.


  • The students may not perceive the activity as relevant to the course and thus may exhibit resistance. Being clear about the purpose of the activity and your learning goals may help motivate engaged participation.
  • It is possible that students may feel defensive about their values or even adversarial toward the values of others. Emphasizing the role of context and socialization in the development of values may help students take a non-judgmental approach to the activity.
  • There is also a possibility that students may attempt to speak for others. Encourage students to use “I” statements and speak only for themselves.

Other Associated Material

Core Values Activity Guide

In this activity you will be considering your core values. Values are personal and cultural and reflect both our individual and shared contexts. You will first determine what your personal core values are and then determine which of your values are shared among your peers.


Using the Values Cards, sort each value into the following categories according to how significant each value is to you and the way the navigate the world.

  • Always valued
  • Often valued
  • Sometimes valued
  • Seldom valued
  • Least valued

Use the Values Map handout to generate a list of your values. Each category can have a maximum of 13 values assigned to it, and all values should be categorized.

As you sort your values and create your lists, consider why each is important or not to your sense of self and how you relate to your world and other people. In what ways and from whom did you learn your values? Note any values that you think are missing from the list provided.

From your lists, pick the 8 values that are the most significant to you. These are your “core values.”

Mark any of your values that you think might be widely shared among your peers with a checkmark.

Small Groups

In groups of 3-5, take three minutes to compare your lists. Determine what values are shared between you, and mark them on your list with an “A.”

Time permitting, make another group of 3-5, and determine what values you share with your new group members. Mark them on your list with a “B.”

Large group discussion

Share with the class what values each of your groups determined were “shared values” [instructor should note these on the board or overhead].

Were there any values that are shared across the class? Why do you think that is?

Were there any values that you expected would be shared by your peers that weren’t? Why do you think that is?

Were there any values that you did not expect would be widely shared? Why?

Were there any values that you didn’t see on the list that you think should have been included?


Adapted for use by the Program for Intergroup Relations, University of Michigan.