Defining Spheres of Support

Give each student a blank sheet of 8 ½ by 14’’ paper and a writing implement. Begin by encouraging students to think about their lives and the privileges they have:Think about your daily life. What kind of house do you live in? How do you get from place to place? What kind of food to you eat? What does your family do for entertainment or for fun? Many of us live within our means and have our basic needs met. We also have the privilege of buying new clothes, going out to the movies, or eating out at restaurants. Think about your family specifically and what privileges and opportunities you have. (Vary how you say this depending on the socio-economic realities of the students you teach.) Then ask students: In such circumstances, for whom do you feel responsible?

Explain that they should draw a small circle in the center of the left third of their paper with their name in it to signify themselves. (See an example of this project) Now explain:

  • Think of all of the people you are connected to or whom you know. Who would you help if they were experiencing grave needs for food, clothing, shelter, or health care? What if the they were in danger of life-threatening oppression?
  • Now, draw several circles around the circle with your name. Each of these indicates a different level of responsibility you feel to help people in this situation. In the circle closest to your name, list the names of individuals or groups you feel most responsible for, perhaps “my family,” “my best friend Josh,” or “my dog.”
  • Place the names of people or groups you feel connected to, but less responsible for, in the next circle, and so on.
  • Continue this list, moving outwards until you are listing people you feel almost no responsibility to help on the outside. This may include people you don’t know or even people you think of as your enemies.
  • You should use as many additional, concentric circles as you need need to show the degrees of responsibility you would feel for various people in need.

Be sure to explain that There are no right or wrong answers here, no correct number of circles or correct groups of people who belong in any of the circles. This is an opportunity for you to think about whom you might feel responsible for given the current circumstance of your life. Give students time to make their drawings. Wait until you’ve gone through all three drawings the students will make in the exercise before discussing the students’ work.

Now share this scenario with the students: If a natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane, were to occur in your geographic area and you managed to stay safe while it was happening, who would you try to help after the danger had passed? Draw a circle with your name in it in the center section of your paper and repeat what you did before, this time keeping in mind the situation of a natural disaster in your community. You may find that some groups change and that your circles narrow or broaden. That is okay, this is just an exercise.

Continue to the last scenario (one script is given here, but please be sensitive to your students’ actual economic circumstances and vary what you say accordingly) by saying: Now draw a small circle in the center of the right third of your paper and put your name in it. Imagine that you are living in hard economic times similar to the Depression of the 1930s, when one quarter to one third of the American working population was out of work. There is no money for school supplies or for new clothes for school this year. Your family has had to stop going out for dinner, to the movies, and doing other entertaining things. You must share your computer with siblings and parents, and there’s no money for new video games, etc. Yet your family isn’t experiencing the worst of it. Also imagine that you know people who have to go to soup kitchens for dinner and have to get their groceries at food pantries. One of your friends has even dropped out of school to help their family by working full time. Keeping this in mind, add circles around your name to illustrate those whom you’d try to help if you were in this situation.

Ask students to share their diagrams in pairs. Direct the students to notice how their pictures changed or didn’t change depending on the scenario. When you come back together as a group, ask students to share a similarity and a difference they noticed between their own and their partner’s diagrams. You can ask questions such as:

  • Did anyone put people you didn’t know closest to yourself, with family members further out?
  • Did the number of circles and groups of people you’d help increase, decrease, or stay about the same with each scenario?
  • Why do you think some people might try and help others more when you’re in the same situation (e.g. the first scenario about a natural disaster) than when you’re doing better (e.g. what they showed in the first drawing)?

It’s important not to judge what students say and to encourage students to understand choices that may be different from their own. Ask neutral questions that will help students explain their decision making process and facilitate an open discussion between members of the group.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Defining Spheres of Support." (Viewed on October 4, 2023) <>.


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