Liberating Structures, Setting the tone activities

Purpose to Practice

Use the Purpose to Practice structure with students to co-develop “community guidelines” for the class.

Click on the CC icon in the bottom right corner of the video to turn on closed captions.  

Purpose to Practice
Educator prep: Moderate
Student prep: None
Synchronous or Asynchronous
Video conferencing, Breakout rooms
Duration: Variable

Activity purpose

To co-develop a set of “community guidelines” for the class with students, using a structured approach called Purpose to Practice (a liberating structure) which reminds us all that while guidelines are often lists of practices/behaviors that are acceptable/unacceptable in a certain context, they should always be rooted in the purpose behind them.

Useful for

Creating a safe space collaboratively with students, promoting reflection. Can be done at the beginning of the semester, revised in the middle of the semester.


Encourage students to bring to class any “codes of conduct” or “community guidelines” they have seen before, and/or bring your own, so that students can have a starting point if they are unfamiliar with this notion.

Prepare slides with instructions.

Prepare a collaborative space for brainstorming. Best if it is a visual space that allows creating and moving sticky notes of different colors - like Jamboard or Mural.


Conduct the Purpose to Practice activity in small groups as described in the Liberating Structures website with 1-4-all embedded (i.e. give students time to think on their own before sharing with four others and working together before sharing with the full group). The process basically goes in rounds of agreeing on a purpose as a whole group, then in small groups, writing out principles, participants, structures and practices that would be needed to achieve the group’s purposes. In the video, we do the “purpose” part a bit too fast.

This can be done early in the semester but is likely to benefit from revision midway through the semester.


This could take an entire class session if you do it synchronously.

Adaptations and examples

  • You can ask students to work on this in pairs asynchronously (students can meet synchronously outside class time) or different students to work on different parts of it.
  • You can show students a sample community guidelines document and encourage them to annotate it, like the Annotated Syllabus (see Remi Kalir’s video in this collection).
  • You can ask students to vote on suggested edits to a starter list of guidelines.

Technical requirements

  • Breakout rooms to divide students into smaller groups.
  • Some space for collaborative editing. It could simply be a Google doc for each group, but something more visual like Jamboard (from Google), Mural or Miro can help so people can move sticky notes around. The video uses Jamboard which is free. Mural and Miro have a small learning curve and more features.

Useful resources

Purpose to Practice Liberating Structures description

Slide deck used in the video 

Sample guidelines shared in the video (mostly not for classes):

Sample guidelines for online classes for students to remix:

Shades of Noir

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