Strategy

Talking Circle

Restorative Circle, Classroom Circle

Talking Circle is a conflict resolution strategy in which a teacher facilitates a private discussion in order to coach students through a problem-solving conversation with a classmate. When a conflict arises, the teacher invites the students involved to a private area of the classroom to join the Talking Circle. Next, the teacher initiates a problem-solving conversation, following an established routine (e.g., 1. Cool down 2. First student states conflict and feelings 3. Second student paraphrases conflict and states feelings 4. Teacher summarizes conflict and prompts resolution 5. Students form a resolution). During the Talking Circle, the teacher actively listens to each student and uses prompting (e.g., “Tell us what happened today on the playground.”; “How did that make you feel?”; “How would you feel if you were the other person?”) to calmly discuss the conflict and support students in reaching a resolution together. As Talking Circle enables students to express their feelings with words, promotes active listening and empathy, and empowers students to take ownership of resolving conflicts, it effectively supports the development of critical problem-solving skills.

Implementation Tips

Introducing Talking Circle
Teach students about what a Talking Circle is at the beginning of the year. Model facilitating a Talking Circle by choosing students to role play a commonly-encountered problem (e.g., sharing, listening to others).
Establishing a Routine
Follow a consistent routine so that students know what to expect during a Talking Circle. While exact routines will vary, effective ones include: time to cool down, an opportunity for each student to express their perspectives and feelings, and a student-generated resolution.
Maintaining Student Comfort
Present the Talking Circle to the group of students in a friendly way (e.g., “Let’s join a Talking Circle to work through this together.”). Students should know that they are not in trouble when they enter a Talking Circle. Rather, they are learning to talk through their feelings and form solutions.
Coaching Students
Utilize active listening and prompting to coach students on how to come to an agreement (e.g., “Thank you for being honest about your behavior choices. What can you say to your friend to help him feel better?”). Ensure that each student is comfortable with the resolution.
Encouraging Empathy
Challenge the students to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Ask questions such as, “Your friend seems sad that you did not want her to play with you at recess. How would you feel if you asked to play with a friend and he or she said no?”
Planning for the Future
Make a plan on how to avoid this type of conflict in the future. Talk about a similar scenario and ask students how they would handle the situation in the future to ensure that they will think about applying the strategies learned if another conflict occurs.
Reinforcing Lessons Learned
Integrate lessons taught during the Talking Circle into free play, centers or recess. (e.g., “Remember what we talked about during our Talking Circle? You can use those same strategies to figure out a problem that you are having with a friend right now at the kitchen center.”).
Incorporating Turn-Taking Props
Use a talking stick or another prop for students to hold while speaking. A talking stick is a great visual reminder for students to see who is talking at a given time so that no one talks over the other person and everyone gets a turn.

Examples

Small Group Intervention
During choice time a kindergarten teacher observes two students arguing over a toy in one of the free choice centers. The teacher approaches the students and says, “I can see that you are both upset. Let’s join a Talking Circle and work to solve this together.” The teacher and students move to a quiet area of the classroom. Once both students are calm, the teacher says, “When you have the talking stick, please share what happened at free choice centers. You will each have a turn to talk.” The teacher hands the talking stick to the first student who states that the other student would not share any of the toys at the center. The teacher encourages the first student to look directly at the classmate and use the prompt, “When you did ______________________, it made me feel ______________________.” The students says, “When you took all of the toys, it made me feel upset that I couldn’t play.” The teacher repeats the steps with the second student. Once both students have had a chance to share their perspectives, the teacher encourages the students to generate a resolution (e.g., “You both have done a great job listening to one another. Do you think you can work together to come up with a solution?”).
Practicing Whole Group
An upper-elementary teacher notices that many students in class are struggling to maintain peer relationships when their classmates have differing interests. Students are beginning to complain of feeling left out and some name-calling has begun to occur. The teacher addresses the whole class, saying, “I want to share a challenge that I am experiencing with you and see if you can help me figure out how to solve it. My friend and I enjoy hanging out together. Sometimes, we don’t want to do the same things which can make us really frustrated with each other. Put your thumb up quietly if you have ever felt this way. Does anyone have any ideas for how we can work this conflict out?” As students volunteer ideas, the teacher records the proposed solutions on the board. The teacher then says, “Wow! We have generated a lot of solutions here. I have noticed that many of you are also experiencing similar situations with your classmates. Let’s use our Talking Circle protocol to role-play how we can put some of these solutions into action!” The teacher then distributes role-play scenarios, which students work through in pairs, using the established Talking Circle routine. As students practice, the teacher circulates to listen and offer support.

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