Helping all children become happy learners
In the legend of King Arthur a round table was built so that all the knights could sit with equal status around it. Circle Time, at its simplest, is the sitting round in a circle to provide an opportunity for everyone to be equally involved in lots of different activities and games. This could include, for example, listening to a story or singing a song. Circle Time can therefore just mean a whole group or whole class session.
This article is concerned with 'Circle Time' as a specific approach used to develop social communication skills, emotional literacy, personal and health awareness and collective working and problem solving. It is sometimes referred to as 'Quality Circle Time' to distinguish it from the more generic term referred to above. This form of circle time is used extensively in British primary schools and more rarely in secondary schools as a means of delivering the Personal Social Health Education curriculum.
The Key Features of Circle Time
There is a lot of flexibility in the way a circle time session is organised. But the following are generally considered important in ensuring a positive and useful session:
Everyone sits in a circle including adults
Rigid ground rules are agreed covering listening skills, respecting and valuing others, turn taking, confidentiality outside the circle etc.
Increased openness through a shared understanding that the circle is a safe and appropriate place to disclose personal information and discuss sensitive issues.
The use of short warm up games to open and close sessions.
The use of movement activities to redistribute friendship groups and to mark transitions between discussion topics.
The use of stem sentences such as "I feel happy when..." to provide structure and support for contributions
Usually of 30 minutes duration and held weekly
Benefits of Regular Circle Time
Where planned and delivered well on a weekly basis then Circle Time can bring the following benefits:
Improves listening and attention skills
Develops social problem solving skills
Provides opportunity to identify, discuss and diffuse anxieties, concerns and tension within the class and to tackle issues that have occurred since last Circle Time
Creates supportive culture and encourages participation
Improves self-awareness and promotes self-esteem
Reduces bullying behaviours and other playground issues.
Helps identify children who may need additional support
Develops the vocabulary needed to articulate emotions, describe behaviour and internalise these.
Example of Circle Time Rules
As everyone is equal, including the leader within a circle time session, it is important to stress the 'we' to communicate the inclusiveness of the rules to all.
We all sit in a circle so that everyone can see each other
Everyone in the room including adults form part of the circle and join in
We value everyone's contribution by showing active listening and waiting our turn to speak
If we don't want to speak when it is our turn we can pass. Often we will have another chance at the end to make a contribution
We show respect to everyone in the circle and understand that there will be differences of opinion
We laugh with others but never at others
Anyone who does not follow these rules may be asked to face out of the circle or leave it
Circle Time Model Plan
When introducing Circle Time or starting with a new class or group the first session should be largely devoted to establishing ground rules. Rules should come from participants and not the adult. Use questions and scenarios to encourage suggestions of suitable rules. It is also important to revisit the ground rules of circle time at the start of each session. After a few sessions this should take no more than 1 minute.
Warm Up Game
Once the rules have been established circle time always begins with a short warm up game. This will help to energise, motivate and students and also ensure that the session has fun! The warm up game should help to dissolve any tensions that have been brought into the circle.
It is important to ensure that everyone is seated away from peers who may distract them. This helps to maximise attention and concentration during the main focus of circle time. It is important to rearrange students indirectly so as not to draw attention to individuals being moved. Instead move a number of children including those you want to move. Do this by using simple movement activities like 'Move if you... are wearing black socks,' or label students around the circle so that those sat next to each other end up with different labels. Then create movement using the labels to reorganise. See 'Fruit Salad' in circle time resources. Use these activities at any time to refocus students or diffuse any tension.
Once the circle is organised, introduce the topic trying to keep adult explanation to no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Consider whether you want to support this with a stimulus such as props, visuals or sound recordings.
Use the circle to involve everyone in the discussion. This is best achieved by going round the circle to gain participation from everyone. However, at times it is also useful to just listen to volunteered responses. Circle time often involves the use of stem sentences to structure and support responses. Stem sentences can be neutral like: 'My favourite ice cream flavour is...' or emotive like 'I am happy when I...'. Further information on 'Stem Sentences' in circle time resources.
The adult should try to avoid dominating the discussion but intervene as necessary to structure and develop the topic to achieve the planned learning intentions. This is best achieved by a balance of pre-planned and spontaneous follow up questions, statements and stem sentences. Though it is important to achieve learning objectives at times discussions may go in a direction not planned but still worthwhile. As facilitator of the circle time session the adult needs to flexible to alternative strands of thoughts and ideas being developed by the circle.
Time should always be given to a short game to end the session. This should be a fun activity that acts as a reward for compliance of the ground rules and positive contribution within the circle. It also helps to diffuse any emotional tension that has been generated during the topic. Monitoring students during this game may alert you to any vulnerable students who may be struggling with emotions stirred up during the topic discussed.
Organising Circle Time
Circle time needs to be set up in a circle and this often involves a challenge in either finding an open space to deliver it or reorganising classroom furniture to create it. Using the classroom may seem daunting but with practice even the youngest students can quickly move tables and chairs to free up space for the circle.
A session should run for at least 30 minutes and no more than an hour. 30-40 minutes is usually ideal as this generally will fit into the timetable and allows enough time to explore and develop the topic meaningfully.
Circle time is often used to deliver personal, social and health education and it can be an effective way of exploring sensitive issues. However, circle time should be supported with other reinforcement activities such as text based tasks and drawing to secure learning.
CIrcle Time Presentation
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