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listening skills and maintaining Ground Rules.


This means an open circle of chairs with everyone including the teacher taking part.

The aim is for the circle to be a place where people can speak freely, ask and answer questions, express opinions, suggest solutions, share feelings and contribute ideas - or not - without fear of ridicule, marginalisation or punishment.

There are many reasons for using a circle as the standard classroom configuration. First, it is a powerful statement in itself about the group being united: “we are each responsible for this group’s learning and behaviour. It is our job, collectively, to uphold the Ground Rules.”. Second, it shows that the teacher can adopt different roles - in a circle the teacher is more naturally a supporter and tutor. Third, the circle increases openness and helps to make eye contact and listening easier. Fourth, a circle encourages participation from the whole group - there’s nowhere to hide. Finally, a circle is practical. It creates open space for games, for drama, for many of the learning activities described in the Toolkit.


This is a time when everyone in the circle has an opportunity to speak, in turn, without being forced to do so. Explain the rules: "anyone may start, then each person will have a chance to speak in turn round the circle. No-one may comment, verbally or non-verbally, negatively or positively on what anyone says; no-one may interrupt. Anyone can say pass when it is their turn". Explain the spirit: "this is an opportunity to listen to each other. Discussion can come later". Ask for someone to begin.

The Round provides a structured and calm way of encouraging students to speak to each

other and the teacher. It encourages participation by removing the fear of being ridiculed or

ignored - everyone is guaranteed a hearing.

equally valid and valuable contribution to make. Thereby, it contributes to raising self-esteem.

The Round acknowledges that everyone has an

VARIATION: Paper Round

® Useful when class members are not confident enough to express personal opinions in public, perhaps because the material is sensitive or because the students are very shy.

® Give everyone a piece of paper and a pencil.

® Ask for contributions to be written individually and privately but not named.

® Papers are folded, collected in a container and shaken.

® Pass the container round the circle, each person taking out one piece of paper.

® Take turns to read the papers, each person reading the comment as if it were her own.


Choose an object (a felt pen, small box, ruler, ball …) to use as a conch (the idea is taken from the novel Lord of the Flies). Explain that a person can speak only when they are holding the conch. When a speaker has finished, she passes the conch directly to the next person who wants to speak.

This usually brings order to a discussion. It’s amazing how much authority the innocent object can have!


Give everyone 3 tokens (buttons, counters, pieces of card …) Each time a person makes a contribution to the discussions he surrenders a token, putting it in a box in the middle of the circle. Vary the number of tokens per person according to the size of the group.

This simple device starts to equalise participation, to limit the garrulous and encourage the shy.

Sum up and Speak up

When a person wants to contribute to a discussion, he must first sum up what the previous speaker said and then given his own opinion: “So-and-so said …, I think …” Every so often the teacher shouts Sum up and Speak up, whereupon someone volunteers to sum up the main points of the discussion so far, drawing applause from the whole group.


The teacher prepares two identical sets of cards (playing cards or handmade numbered cards). One set is distributed to the class: one per person. The other is retained by the

teacher, shuffled publically and ‘cut’ by a student. The teacher turns the top card, revealing which member of the class is to speak first. When the first speaker is finished, the next card

is turned over. This second person must sum up what the first speaker said and then make

her own contribution, and so on …

Although tough, this process is usually accepted as totally fair. It works particularly well when

a sequence of ideas (such as steps in an experiment, or historical events, or a story) is being

created or recalled. It is also good for opening discussion of sensitive issues (for example in RE or Personal and Social Education) when students might be reluctant to volunteer to speak.

‘Used’ cards should be returned to the bottom of the pack. Every now and again the teacher should reshuffle the pack … just to keep everyone on their toes!