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Can you trade values?


Group 2 – non subject-specific activities
Group 3 – specific subject – tool for civic education and philosophy teachers


pupils from 14 to 18 (group size: at least 8 and maximum 35 participants)


  • To understand the concept of value and to reflect on it
  • To learn to listen to other’s perspectives, to set out arguments and to negotiate


The necessary time will vary, but is estimated between 1 and 2 hours (approximately 10 minutes to explain the exercise, 20 minutes of trading, between 20 and 60 minutes of compromising, and another 30 minutes for the debrief). Variations are possible which will require more time (e.g. leaving more time and room for the negotiation part).


  • A room big enough for participants to walk around in
  • Cardboard cards, each holding one value (e.g. “Most people cannot be trusted”, “Humans should, in every way, live in complete harmony with nature”, etc.). Enough cards so that every participant can have eight. There can be duplicates, but there should be at least 20 different value-cards.


  • Prepare the value-cards. Make sure that they contain values, deeply rooted beliefs about what is good and what is bad. Also, try to ensure that each value you note down could be actively supported by at least one of the participants.
  • After explaining the exercise to the participants, randomly hand out the value cards to the participants, and make sure everybody receives 8 cards.
  • Ask participants to “upgrade” the cards through trading – that is, exchange values they have on their cards with values they prefer. There is no obligation to trade 1:1, the only rule is that nobody should end up with less than 2 cards.
  • Once trading has stopped, ask participants to get together in groups holding similar value-cards. They should discuss what it is they have in common. If you like, you could also ask them to focus on where these values came from and why they hold similar values.
  • Then ask them to find somebody that holds values that are very different than theirs. These pairs should try to formulate values they can both agree on, on the basis of what they have on their cards. Although participants might be tempted to simply find compromises by finding more and more abstract or very broad and almost meaningless statements, motivate them to stay as concrete as possible.
  • Finish the exercise when you feel that most of the pairs have come up with two or three compromise statements. With the whole group, hold a debriefing, asking the following questions:
    • How did participants feel about the exercise? Was it easy to trade values? What made it easy/difficult?
    • Did they find out something about their own values – and where they come from?
    • How was it to compromise on their values? What made it particularly difficult? How can you compromise on values?
    • Values are very often seen as at the foundation of “culture”, and they are so deeply rooted that most people find it difficult to negotiate about them. How can we really live together interculturally then? Are there some common values everybody can agree on? How do you live together if you cannot agree on values? What kind of “working arrangements” could you make?


The formulation of the values on the cards is very important – some of the values we used proved too broad (everybody could agree on them), some too specific. The best thing is to discuss in your team about the values and see if you can find a good variety of opinions on the values for the cards.


Intercultural Learning T-Kit 4, Council of Europe and European commission, 2001, page 54

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