Brainstorming Issues and Root Causes Through Mapping


  • To identify problems and potential issues in students’ communities
  • To identify the larger power structures that feed into these problems


  • Butcher paper/flip chart paper
  • Markers
  • Tape
  • Large map of your city
  • String/yarn
  • Push pins
  • “Getting to the Root” handout (1 per participant)

Prepare Before

Place a large map of your city on the wall. Put yarn and pins at the front of the room so that students can put where they live on the map as the enter the room.

Warm Up

As student come into class, have them come to the map and put a pin where they live and connect a piece of colored string from their home to school (or your organization).

What do you notice about the map?


STEP 1: Visualization

Ask participants to close their eyes as you talk them through a walk in their community. Speak slowly and calmly as you invite participants to visualize their community in the daytime.

You are walking through your community.  What is on the streets? What do the buildings look like?  What do the people look like? What are they doing? Are there any children around? Animals?  Where do people live?  Where do people work?  What can people buy there?  How are people getting around to places? Are there trees, flowers, bushes?  Is there garbage lying around? Does it feel safe?  How can you tell?

Now imagine that it is dark.  What, if anything, changes in your community?

When you are ready, open your eyes.

STEP 2: Community Map

[Note:  Use the map from the Warm Up to put participants into groups based on where they live.  Try to have as few categories as you can.  If there are participants who are from places where no one else is from, they should join into one group to do a community map of the area around the school or organization.]

We are going to go through the first step in taking action, which is identifying issues that we see everyday in our communities. Pick 1-2 participants to be artists.

What did you see about your community in the visualization?

Note: if participants get stuck, bring up questions you asked in the visualization.

As people talk about what they see, artists will draw out people’s ideas on the butcher paper/flip chart paper/whiteboard/chalkboard.


What do you notice about the map? Looking at this map, what are some problems that you see? What are some issues our community faces? (If they mention things that are not on the map, have artists add them.)

What would you say is the biggest issue? On the map, circle the issues that participants say are the biggest. If there are more than 3 or 4, narrow it down to the 3-4 most salient issues.


This is one of the activities we will do to learn more about community and school issues.  Part of understanding issues is understanding the root cause of the issues.  Now we want to spend time trying to determine the root cause of some of the things we see in our communities.

In the United States, the dominant culture values individualism, and so we sometimes think individuals are responsible for everything (e.g., if someone isn’t working it is because they haven’t tried hard enough to get a job or if a street is dirty it is because people litter too much). What could be other reasons a street is dirty?

But the individual is only one factor in the equation of the problem.  There are systems in place that make things easier for some people and harder for others. Ask them to think of the “isms,” in particular classism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism.


Pick one example of the problems on your community map. Discuss as a class what the root problem is for this issue. What “isms” contribute to this problems?

Divide the class into 3-4 groups, one for each of the main issues on the community map.  In their groups, they will look at the community map to determine what the root cause is and to see where the “isms” fit with this issue.

Each group answers these questions (write questions on the board):

  • Which of these “isms” applies to this issue?
  • How specifically do you see them played out?
  • What interactions are there between individuals, laws, and unwritten rules of how the community works?

Each group should be prepared to share with everybody.