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Using the Cultural Identity Tree in Your Asynchronous Video Exchange

It takes a lot to surprise me. When it comes to educators and virtual exchanges, I’m constantly reading about new initiatives and feeding my little workshop-brain to churn out new ideas for this blog. So, it’s a pretty big deal when I come across something that arches my brow and piques my curiosity. Consider, too, that I’m no gardener, I don’t like to hike, and I’m overall pretty ambivalent about the outdoors. All the more reason why, when I stumbled upon the concept of “Cultural Identity Tree,” I groaned and knew I had been baited into learning more. And, once I did, I thought—yeah, but wouldn’t this be way cooler as a video production?

Introduction to the Cultural Identity Tree

I first tripped over the roots of the CIT when reading “How Children Can Bridge Differences Through Virtual Exchange,” an article by Maryam Abdullah. Used in activities aimed at fostering self-awareness and cultural understanding, I think this magical evergreen can be adapted into a highly engaging and insightful activity for virtual classroom exchanges. Mind you, in its traditional form, students create a visual representation of a tree, with each part symbolizing different aspects of their identity. The roots stand for family heritage, the trunk for personal values, branches for hobbies and interests, and leaves for hopes and dreams. Sounds easy enough, right? But now, hear me out…by adapting this activity into a video format for your asynchronous virtual exchange,  you’re giving students a unique framework (and a very easy metaphor to navigate) in order for them to share their unique backgrounds and perspectives in a creative and personal way.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Cultural Identity Tree Videos

Understanding the Assignment: I’d start by explaining the assignment to your students. Emphasize that the cultural identity tree is a metaphor for different aspects of their identities. The roots represent where they come from, including family heritage and cultural background. The trunk stands for their present self, including their core values and strengths. The branches show their interests and hobbies, and the leaves symbolize their future aspirations and dreams. If you want to show them a visual example, they’re not hard to find; however, I’d almost shy away from doing that, lest you stymie their creativity and force them down a well-trodden path by tracing the outlines. In fact, you can decide how much individual guidance your students might need when you…

Reflect and Plan: Encourage students to take some time for personal reflection. They should think about each part of the tree and what it represents in their lives. This can include considering their family history, personal achievements, values, hobbies, and aspirations. Planning their video can involve writing a brief script or outline to organize their thoughts. Or have them draw it out with class materials, if it will help them visualize the concept. Or, heck, even allow them to use an AI image generator to help stimulate their creativity!

Creating the Video

Introduction: Students should start their video with a brief introduction, sharing their name and any other introductory information they feel comfortable sharing. You can talk about this as a class and refer to whatever parameters you’ve set up with your Level Up Village representative, and the other instructors participating in the exchange.

Describing the Tree: Moving on to the main part of the video, students will describe their cultural identity tree, segment by segment. They can start from the roots, explaining their family background and cultural heritage, move up to the trunk to discuss their values and strengths, and then talk about their interests (branches) and hopes for the future (leaves).

Visual Aids: Obviously, students should use visual aids such as drawings, digital graphics, or photographs to represent different parts of their tree. This will make the video more engaging and help visually convey their story. And, honestly, the way they go about achieving this will make each video so incredibly interesting and unique!

Personal Touch: Encouraging students to include personal stories or anecdotes makes their presentation more engaging and relatable. They might share a family tradition when discussing their roots or a personal achievement for the trunk. Or maybe it’s trophies they’ve won, pictures of games or performances in which they played a critical role, or some other artifact taking the place of the branches.

Video Guidelines: Always provide guidelines on video length, format, and any technical aspects they need to consider. This might include how to upload their video to the platform being used for the exchange. You definitely don’t want them spending all this time and exerting this creativity only to then fail meeting the basic requirements!


You can adapt the magical, catch-all, creative exercise of growing one’s own Cultural Identity Tree into a video format for asynchronous virtual exchanges, and through it, your students can creatively and thoughtfully share aspects of their identity with their peers. I find that this activity not only promotes self-reflection and expression, but it also fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity in the classroom. Because, of course, the first thing your students are going to want to do is share their work with each other! Through these stories, students can build connections that transcend physical and cultural boundaries, creating a more inclusive and empathetic learning environment.