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In this activity…

In this activity… Students will complete the VIA Youth Survey to identify their Top 5 Signature Strengths and gain insight into their unique character profile. They will then use a strengths tree to reflect on the strengths of their peers and determine how they can use this knowledge to help each other thrive.

And the point is…

The VIA Institute on Character cites that only 1/3 of people have an active awareness of their strengths. Strengths awareness and using character strengths has been found to improve relationships, enhance overall wellbeing, build resilience, and strengthen student’s ability to overcome problems. 

Materials: Computers, Coloured Paper, scissors, markers, tape, wall space


Now that students are familiar with the 24 different character strengths, it’s time for them to identify their unique character strengths profile. Explain that everyone has a unique character strengths profile, based on the degree to which they possess the 24 different character strengths.

Tell students that signature strengths are character strengths that are most essential to who they are and that these usually appear near the top of their character strengths profile (ex. top 5 strengths). At this point, also highlight that lesser strengths, near the bottom of the Character Strengths Profile, are not weaknesses. Instead, students should think of these lesser strengths as strengths that are underdeveloped, unrealized, less valued, and/or less frequently used in comparison to their signature strengths.

Explain that everyone has the potential to build and embody any of the 24 character strengths. After answering students' questions and clarifying any concerns, ask students to complete the VIA Youth Survey.

The VIA Youth Survey is “a scientifically-validated survey that is regarded as a central tool of positive psychology” (VIA Institute on Character, n.d.) and has been specifically tailored for children and adolescents aged 10-17. This free, 15-minute online survey is a simple character test that reveals students’ greatest strengths.

To complete the survey, students need access to a computer and they need to register for a free VIA account (using an email address). After completing the survey, each student will see their unique Character Strengths Profile. There is an option to purchase a VIA Youth Report for $10, but this is not necessary for the activity. The VIA Youth Report is an in-depth, age-appropriate review of the student’s signature, middle, and lesser character strengths, along with tips, activities, and quotes to help youth improve their lives and thrive.

If students are interested in purchasing this report, encourage them to talk to their parents about this activity, and to ask for their financial support. Students can purchase the full report at a later time by logging into their account.

VIA Youth Survey Link >

Once every student has completed the survey, engage in a 10-minute class discussion using the following prompts:

  • Do any of your top 5 signature strengths surprise you? If so, which ones and why?
  • Do any of your lesser strengths surprise you? If so, which ones and why?
  • What is a strength that you want to build? What action steps can you take to build this strength?
  • How do your signature strengths present in your everyday life (i.e. what thoughts or behaviours reflect your signature strengths)?
  • Is it possible to overuse a strength such that it is no longer beneficial? Can you think of a specific example from your life?
  • What are the benefits of having unique character strengths profiles?
  • How might knowing your character strengths profile affect the way you approach challenges?
  • How might being aware of other people’s strengths affect the way you work together?

The final discussion question, “How might being aware of other people’s strength affect the way you work together?” naturally transitions into the last part of this lesson, which involves building a classroom strengths tree. Taking a strengths-based approach is about more than spotting strengths in yourself; it also involves spotting strengths in others. Strengths spotting is an opportunity to engage in high-quality connections, build community, and provide encouragement and motivation. VIA provides three tips for spotting strengths in others:

  1. Label: Name the strength you observe (What did you observe?)
  2. Explain: Explain your observation (What were they doing when you noticed them?)
  3. Appreciate: Express appreciation (Why do you value that strength expression?)

Strengths spotting does not solely involve recognizing other’s signature strengths because everyone is capable of expressing all 24 strengths. In fact, some students might even find it more encouraging to have a lesser strength be spotted. However, as a starting point for this activity, students will focus on their top 5 signature strengths.

In advance of this lesson, cut out the shape of a tree on brown construction paper, ensuring that the tree has six branches. You will need to use multiple pieces of construction paper to ensure that the tree is large enough for the purpose of this activity. On the day of the lesson, clear a space on the wall where you can piece together and hang up the tree. Each branch represents one of the virtues and should be labelled accordingly.

Strengths Tree Outline available in downloads section.

Then, give students colourful construction paper, scissors, and (if needed) leaf templates. Students will use the materials to cut out five different leaves. On each leaf, they will write their name as well as one of their top-five signature strengths.

Every student will then decorate the tree with their leaves, hanging each leaf (strength) on the corresponding branch (virtue). Once all leaves have been hung, reflect on the following questions:

  • As a class, do we express every character strength in our signature strengths? If not, what character strength is missing?
  • Is our tree balanced or unbalanced? If it is unbalanced, which virtues are more and less represented?
  • How can we use this tree to guide teamwork, problem-solve, and help each other thrive?
  • Did anything about this activity surprise you? What did you learn?

Leaf Templates available in downloads section.


Are the strengths at the bottom of my list weaknesses?

No, lesser strengths near the bottom of the Character Strengths Profile are not weaknesses. Instead, these lesser strengths can be thought of as underdeveloped, unrealized, less valued, and less frequently used in comparison to signature strengths. Nevertheless, they are still strengths, and everyone has the potential to develop any of the 24 character strengths.

What if my friend's top 5 strengths are better than mine?

Character strengths profiles are not good or bad and there is no ideal character strength profile. Each of the 24 character strengths have been valued and deemed fundamental by key philosophers and religious thinkers over the past 2,500 years. Different character strengths will be beneficial for different situations. For example, positive classroom behaviour has been most strongly related to perseverance, social intelligence, prudence, hope, and self-regulation. Alternatively, popularity was related to strengths such as leadership and fairness, self-regulation, prudence, and forgiveness. Each unique character strengths profile adds value to a situation and can be harnessed within a relationship or opportunity. Instead of comparing yourself to your friends, think about how your strengths may complement each other and, collectively, lead to enhanced success.

What do the top 5 strengths represent?

The top 5 strengths are your signature strengths, representing the character strengths that are most essential to who you are. These strengths may represent strengths that you value the most, strengths that you naturally use more frequently, and/or strengths that you have previously invested time into developing.

Is it possible to overuse a strength such that it is no longer beneficial?

Yes, character strengths can be represented by a continuum ranging from overuse to underuse. At the center of the continuum is the optimal level of strength expression, also known as the “strengths zone” or the “golden mean”. What’s challenging is that this ideal level of strength expression is situation dependent. Let’s use the character strength of humour as an example. Recall that humour describes a playful approach to life, the ability to find humour in stressful times, and a desire to make others laugh or smile. In its strengths zone, humour can lighten the mood and drive social connection. However, when humour is overused, the person may come across as rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectful. When humor is underused, the person may seem disengaged or cold. Furthermore, the strengths zone for humor will likely be much lower at a serious event like a funeral, and much higher at a relaxed, social event, like a party.

Refer to the Golden Mean Document to learn more about the underuse, optimal use, and overuse of strengths