Elementary Mental Health - Circle Talk

  • Participants in a Talking Circle learn to listen and respect the views of others. The intention is to open hearts to understand and connect with one another. Talking circles can be used for discussion, problem solving, and/or decision making. The basic purpose of a talking circle is to create a safe, non-judgmental place where each participant has the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of difficult and/or important issues.

    Below you will find links to direct you in leading a talking circle in your home or classroom.

    Talking Circle

    1. Facilitator sits in the circle on the same level with students/participants. 

    2. Inform people that this is a tradition that Native Americans and many tribal communities used to think through problems and make decisions. Today this process is used in conflict mediation and in community building. 

    3. The circle is symbolic because in theory everyone is equidistant from the center, which means that everyone’s voice has equal weight. 

    4. The facilitator of the talking circle poses a question or topic and gives everyone a minute or two to think about this question/topic before responding. 

    5. Participants are offered a chance to speak to the topic or answer the question one at a time by going clockwise around the circle. A person can choose to pass if she/he is not prepared to answer. When everyone has spoken then the people who passed are invited once again to share their ideas. They always have the right to pass.

    6. It is important for everyone to hear each other’s ideas in a talking circle, therefore, everyone is encouraged to speak up and if a person cannot be heard, listeners are asked to give a silent signal indicating the need for the speaker to speak louder. 

    7. One person speaks at a time. There is no cross conversation; you speak only when it is your turn as we go in succession around the circle. This means no commenting, calling out or interrupting others while they are speaking. No clarifying questions. Listeners just do their best to attend to what the speaker is saying.

    8. People are invited to listen for themes and to do their best to listen with an ear toward understanding what others mean. This is not easy and takes practice and stamina.

    9. When it is your turn to speak, you could comment on what another has said; add to another’s idea; question someone’s thinking—but those people are not allowed to respond. This is a very different dynamic than conversational discourse. It creates a space for people to say what is on their minds without having to defend themselves or take a stance. It creates a space for ideas to percolate and for themes that are relevant to the collective to emerge. 

    10. After everyone has shared, the facilitator summarizes and names the themes that came up. The facilitator might then invite others to add to the themes that were identified. 

    11. If appropriate and time permits, participants can engage in conversation that speaks to one of the themes.