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Community Circle
Read It and Talk About It
By Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

Community Circle
Circle uses a highly structured process to create a safe space where teens can share their feelings and experiences by speaking without interruption. In the circle everyone is equal, and everyone’s voice matters. Respectful listening and reflection are encouraged while self-regulation is practiced. Circle is particularly effective when a difficult topic needs to be discussed together, when you are asking for personal sharing in the group, and when a story elicits strong feelings or explores a difficult topic.

Four key components of Circle:

  • Sitting in a Circle: Everyone can see each other, be fully engaged, have clear focus, and equal participation.

  • The Talking Piece: Find something—any small object can work—to use as the “talking piece.” The talking piece is passed around the circle in order, from one person to the next. The person holding it is invited to speak to the question posed, or pass. After the talking piece has been passed fully around, circle it again to provide an opportunity for anyone who passed the first time to respond to the question.

  • The Center Piece: Resting in the middle of the circle, it is intended to create a focal point for circle participants so they can be more fully present and bring their best self to the circle. Often the center piece is an assemblage created together and may be decorated to encourage calm and mindfulness.

  • Circle Keeper: The adult facilitator, known as the keeper, invites and supports participants in building and maintaining a safe and supportive community.
  • The Circle Keeper poses an open question to the group (usually no more than 2 questions are posed in a Circle. Though the keeper initiates the circle, ensures the proper use of the talking piece, and monitors the dialogue and safety of the space, the goal is for this to become a shared responsibility and an opportunity for youth leadership. The circle keeper also responds to any question posed.

Often occurring within a Community Circle, a gathering activity typically includes a piece of selected material, such as a quote, an image, or a song to which group members respond in writing, discussion, or drawing. Selecting a quote from a story are going to read helps teens to preview the text. A gathering is a quick activity to bring the group to the emotional and thinking place of the story and activities that will follow.

One example we recommend is Rose, thorn, bud. Going around the Circle, each participant shares in the following:

  • Rose: A positive thing that has happened or that is going well.

  • Thorn: A challenge or something that is currently a struggle.

  • Bud: Something that has possibility or promise that you feel hopeful about.

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
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