My Session. All the Circles. TMC #2

My session started out as one thing in January and became a totally different thing when I presented.  I would say my session was in two parts: 1. Building trust in the classroom using circles and 2. restorative justice as we use it at my school.

(I’m nearing 1000 words so I’m gonna just write about #1 now and come back for #2 laterz)

We started with a circle activity that I run in my class all the time, like probably every other week or more.  You have the students stand in two concentric circles facing a partner.   They always start by introducing themselves to their partners and shaking hands, I even make them do this in May.  (This next thing is the rotating part that you can do however you want but I’ll explain my method) Then I have the outside circle turn one way and the inside turn the other and hold their hand up to high five their parter.  This looks a little like square dancing.  I call a number and they high five as they rotate and count out loud. So high five your partner “ONE” next person “TWO” and so forth til they have a new partner.  Then they introduce themselves again.

I use this formation for questions and various other things.  Here are some examples of things you might have the kids do with their partners. (I make them rotate between each question)

  1.  Inside circle you have 10 seconds to tell your partner what you ate in the last 24 hours
  2. You will each have 20 seconds to tell your partner what the best part of last period was. Outside circle will start.
  3. Tell your partner your favorite color.
  4. What are you watching on tv/netflix right now?
  5. What do you want to be when you grow up?
  6. What is your favorite class?
  7. Tell your partner everything you did this weekend starting sunday night and ending friday afterschool
  8. You must talk for 60 tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  9. Tell your partner the last thing that made you laugh (appropriate)
  10. Tell your partner the last thing that made you sad
  11. Tell your partner something you wish you were better at
  12. Tell your partner something you like about them

This is a picture of ideas we came up with in session.

FullSizeRender-1In my list I would says 1-6 are very low trust questions. Things you would be willing to tell anyone.  I use those at the beginning of the year or the start of the activity.  7-12 are higher trust you need to read the relationships in the room.  I like to intersperse the questions with little games like best two of three in rock-paper-scissors or multiplying fingers whatever you make up is fine just use those to lighten the mood. You can have them make up a 3-move hand shake in 60 seconds or whatever.

Pieces of advice for this

  • If you don’t do things like this hold the list of questions in your hand so you are ready every time
  • the more you do this the faster the kids are at doing it (that includes moving desks and chairs)
  • on that note unless your desks are nailed to the floor they are NOT nailed to floor MOVE THEM
  • the clearer the directions the better this will go
  • time limits on questions are the most important
  • the more you do things like this the better they are at talking to each other so the payoff in collaborative work is HUGE
  • if there is something you want to know about a particular child stand near them and eavesdrop. I leveraged the fact one of my girls wants to be a chef all year.
  • if you don’t have my memory for things sit down after class and jot down somethings you learned about the kids
  • If you want to know what one kid said have their partner share out, “Jason what does Dan want to be when he grows up?” also, ask like 4 other kids to not be too obvious


I also use circles as a means for all class discussions. So I make everyone sit in a circle and we either go around or raise hands. I try to do as many positive circles as possible. The circle has a talking piece (we call it the squishy) and only the person holding it can talk. Also, I start by saying the norms of the circle every time. “This is our circle, it is a safe place to speak, you should be looking at the person talking and not be having side conversations.  You should have nothing in your hand and no head phones.”

Some circle questions:

  • one word to describe your weekend (go around)
  • one good thing about the presentations you just gave in english (popcorn)
  • if you had 30 minutes of school time and could make the whole student body participate what would you do? (go around)
  • What’s something someone in this class has done recently that impressed you (popcorn)
  • How is 10th grade different than 9th
  • What are you excited about for 11th grade

At my school we also use circles to address all school issues.  Like if there is a graffiti problem or something our counselor will come up with questions and we will all do them either at the end of the day or during advisory.  The rule of thumb is that your circles should be at least 80% good circles.  If they aren’t then students will literally groan if they walk in and chairs are in a circle.

Okay, that’s it for the first 1/2 of my session.  Let me know if you have questions! 🙂




4 thoughts on “My Session. All the Circles. TMC #2

  1. Thank you for posting! You are always so good with games and circles and questions and making the kids feel comfortable with each other. I love that you posted this and I can use it as a reference this year!!!


  2. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!!!! I’m transferring all these ideas to ways to build community in my math classes and my new 9th grade advising in remote school, and I feel so much more comfortable because of it!


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