Academic Diversity Activity: Pipe Cleaner Similarities


Participants will discover the various things they have in common with others, regardless of background, race, or culture.


20-30 minutes


Enough pipe cleaners so that each participant has four. Long pipe cleaners are best, although the shorter variety may be used. Provide a variety of colors.


Place the pipe cleaners on a central table and ask each person to select four pipe cleaners in the colors of their choice.

Step 1.
Tell participants that their task is to shape the pipe cleaners to represent something that is very important in their life or something that is an important goal in their life. Allow about five to seven minutes. The trainer should circulate around the room to observe the creations that participants make.

Step 2.
Working with the person next to them, ask participants to try to guess what each other's creations represent.

Step 3.
As a total group, ask participants to stand if their creation represents the concept that your name. For example, say, "If you creation represents something to do with religion, please stand." Note the number of people who are standing. Once they are seated, call on those to stand whose creation represents another concept. Concepts may include religion, family, friends, money, education, health, or others that you notice.

When most people have had a chance to identify with one of the groups standing, ask those who have not yet stood to raise their hands. Ask one of the people with a raised hand to share what his or her creation represents. Then ask if anyone else made a creation that represents the same concept or a similar one. If so, ask them to stand. Continue until nearly everyone has had an opportunity to stand.


Ask what participants learned from this activity. Note the fact that everyone in the room is different. Note specifically any differences that are apparent, such as the ages of group members, the parts of the state they are from, the types of community they live in, or the positions they hold.

Ask the participants the following questions:

What did you notice about the concepts we chose to have our pipe cleaners represent?

What if this group was filled with people from very diverse backgrounds? What are the chances that many of these same concepts would surface?

Conclude by pointing out that regardless of our backgrounds, those things that are very important to us are often similar for all of us. So, if you found yourself on a deserted island with someone you consider to be very different from you, and you think you couldn't possibly have anything to talk about, think about your pipe cleaners and you will have plenty to talk about. The same principle could apply in almost any situation in which you are interacting with someone who has a background different from yours.

Pipe Cleaner Similarities (PDF)

Credit: Penn State College of Agricultural Science