The Pyramid of Power

After introducing his 4th grade students to the VIA Character Strengths vocabulary list, teacher Jay Sharp taught them how to build a Pyramid of Power, based on their individual strengths. Encouraging them to take some time thinking about their own strengths, Jay then asked them to choose six strengths that they related to the most. These six would become the building blocks for the pyramid of power.  Through a series of decisions and discussions, each student explored and celebrated their strengths. Construction began… and afterwards, each student had created a colorful, individual pyramid of strengths – including one they wanted to build toward. The result was a personally symbolic tool that can be used all year for learning and motivation by the teacher, student and parents – far beyond the classroom.

 Key Ingredients:

  • Establishing personal relevance of character strengths to individuals: self observation, discussions, goal setting, best self stories
  • Finding new ways to use strengths: exploring new ways to use strengths at work, in relation to co-workers
  • Strengths spotting: understanding others in terms of their strengths

Domain: Education (but relevant to any setting)

Target audience for application: 4th graders, but relevant to any age

Description of application:

  • Materials needed: VIA list of character strengths, paper, scissors, pencils, crayons or markers.
  • Pre-learning : Students have been given a list of the character strengths and understand the general meaning of each one.
  • Process: A pyramid has four sides. This lesson focuses on one side at a time. These directions are for the construction of one side at a time.

  1. Construction of blocks: teacher passes out a pre-printed sheet with six equally-sized rectangles for the students to cut out.
  2. Naming Strengths blocks: students choose which of the character strengths they want to write on their six blocks, choosing the top six that they relate to at the time and writing one per block. Each block is colored in a different color – their favorite colors used for their three foundational blocks. (See below.)
  3. Building the Pyramid: students choose three blocks to place at the base of their pyramid. These are considered the foundational strengths that the child identifies as “most like me”– what at VIA we refer to as “signature strengths.”  Next, the student chooses two more strengths and places them on the base. These are called “middle strengths” the child sees as less prominent. At the pinnacle are one or more strengths that the child identifies as wishing to build towards.
  4. Constructing the Shape: tape the pyramid together, or glue onto another sheet of paper.
  5. Strengths writing/discussion: on the back of the pyramid, students describe their reasons for placing their strengths where they did on the pyramid.

    — This tool can be used in the classroom all day – referred to by the student or the teacher to aid learning and/or to manage interpersonal conflict on the playground.
    — Children can refer back to their Pyramid to find their individual motivators in learning and being compassionate with others.
    — Student’s self-knowledge grows and is carried forward in their lives, help them navigate well the twists and turns of life, in ways true to their core.
    — A great tool for parent-teacher conferences to nurture discussions between parent and child about the child’s pyramid– and perhaps even the parents’ pyramids, too.
    — The tool provides a visual goal setting devise in a direct, relevant form for the student

Duration of application/program: ongoing


  • Students gained greater self awareness, confidence in their own abilities, and fluidity in discussing strengths in themselves and others.
  • Through the goal of building a strengths, they realized the link between their behaviors and well being, how the use of or neglect of their strengths affects their success, relationships, and many other areas of life.
  • They become more aware of the strengths of others by gaining more awareness of their own. (Ex: What strengths do you think that person might have that are causing this reaction? How can your strengths help in this situation?)