The Value of Sharing Circles

Articles and Other Resources That Will Inform Your Teaching

We Drew a Circle That Took Him In

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JoEllen Hartline

Reproduced from her book, The Primary Me

He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.
Edwin Marham


Out of all the things I do in helping students to build their own self-esteem, I love the Sharing Circle the most, There are so many reasons I value the Sharing Circle. Oral language is such an important skill. Those who have the ability to speak well have an edge in this world. H. A. Overstreet in his book, The Mature Mind, stresses that speech is that through which we mostly influence one another from childhood through our adult years, from birth to death. He says that speech is that through which we most commonly seek to escape our skin-enclosed isolation and to enter into a community of experience. Children can do nothing more than repeat the expletives, clichés, and slang phrases if they never have a chance, though words, to express the strong uniqueness of their human experiences. When I read these words and thoughts of H. A. Overstreet several years ago, I immediately thought of the circle sessions. In the Sharing Circles the children are learning to express their thoughts and feelings and the uniqueness of their own experiences. And I feel we need to start early with children to give them the confidence and practice they need.

As a reading specialist, I know the value of teaching primary children to hold up their heads, speak up, and articulate their thoughts and feelings. This oral language development should come first before beginning formal reading instruction. If not first, it should at least exist along side other reading instruction in the primary grades. Most states have primary exit skill objectives that focus on speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Circle sessions can cover all four of these objectives in a very natural setting – children and teacher sitting in a circle communicating on meaningful topics. We know that in the real world the people who get their needs met are the ones who can articulate their needs. Our children need to be taught these skills at a very early age, and they need practice time with their peers. All of this needs to take place in a safe environment in the classroom.

The Census Bureau asked 3,000 employers to rank how important several factors are in hiring non-supervisory production workers. The results were ranked on a scale of 1 through 5, with 1 not being important or not considered, and 5 being very important. Attitude was first with a rank of 4.6 and communication skills came in second with a rank of 4.2. We have known for a long time that one of the most important factors in succeeding on a job is the ability to get along with others. I feel that processes like the Sharing Circle and cooperative learning start early on to teach these skills.

Lastly, and most importantly, I love the Sharing Circles because they build a community within your classroom. The circle sessions help bond your students together as a class, a family, who will live together for a whole year. Your students can learn to respect and listen to hearts as well as heads. The circles will enable you to create a warm, humane environment for you students. And such a community would create an atmosphere where all students could reach their highest potential cognitively as well as affectively. This is a worthy goal for any classroom.

In teaching the Sharing Circle in a primary reading class I teach at the university level I use the circle as part of the reading program focusing on oral language development. I use a poem, a short story, or a short book to arrive at a topic. After the circle session, I let the children draw or write about the topic. Then, they read what they have written. Now they have covered speaking, listening, writing, and reading skills in a very meaningful context.

THE SHARING CIRCLE HANDBOOK will elaborate on the circle procedures and the ground rules. This handbook will also give you many good ideas for facilitating the circle sessions in your classroom. I would recommend that you divide your class into little circles of eight to twelve children. Have them grouped heterogeneously. Group children who are more articulate with children who are more reticent in speaking. I usually have thee groups in an average-sized primary classroom. I do the circle session once a week with each group. I use the same topic for all the circles for that week. I might even read the book, story, or poem to the whole group, and then let the children know what the topic will be when they get into the circle. If you really need a lot of work on oral language with your students, you may want to have more than one circle per group per week. These small groups process very quickly, usually within fifteen minutes. The other children in the class can be working at interest centers, doing other assigned work, or doing independent reading activities. Hopefully, you can have another adult, or a student from an upper grade on loan for a few minutes in the room to monitor their work. One teacher friend called and said she had no one to help her, and she was dealing with a group that could not handle independent work very well. She put the students in two circles, an inner and an outer circle. This way she had them all with her. The inner circle participated and the outer circle just listened, knowing that they would get their turn to be in the inner circle the next day. THE SHARING CIRCLE HANDBOOK lists this option as well as several others.


At the Innerchoice web site you will find many other titles that incorporate the Sharing Circle. There are resources specifically aimed at simultaneously building oral language and social skills. The Sharing Circle, or Magic Circle as it is known among those who work with children in their early years, is what we refer to as the social-emotional learning super strategy.


The Sharing Circle Handbook –
Social-Emotional Learning Topics for Teaching Self-Awareness, Communication, and Social Skills



Other Titles that make use of the Sharing or Magic Circles


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