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Talking Circle Lesson Plan

Updated: May 30

Talking Circle Lesson Plan

How to Create and Participate in a Talking Circle

Introduction to Talking Circles

Talking Circles are deeply rooted in the traditions of many Tribal communities and are designed to foster dialogue, respect, and the co-creation of knowledge. More than just a method of communication, Talking Circles include Tribal cultural traditions, creating a space of interconnectedness and commonality that is often absent in conventional communication settings. These circles ensure every voice is heard in a respectful and attentive environment, enhancing the communal learning experience.

Talking Circle Set Up

Choosing a Topic and Participants for Talking Circles

The choice of topic can shape the depth and engagement of a Talking Circle. It should be relevant, meaningful, and resonate with the cultural or communal contexts of the participants. Here’s how to choose an appropriate topic:

  1. Comfortability & Access: Is the topic relatable to the group that you are bringing together? A simple question of “How are you feeling today?” can go a long way. The individual responding to this question can communicate within their level of comfort. This is especially important if the Talking Circle is relatively new and is in the process of building trust between participants. 

  2. Community Relevance: Consider issues or themes that are current and impactful within the community. The topic could address an issue that is specific to the respective Tribal community. 

  3. Inclusivity: Ensure the topic is broad enough to allow diverse opinions and perspectives but focused enough to keep the discussion cohesive.

  4. Building on Previous Conversation: If you form an ongoing Talking Circle, choose subjects or themes that can be revisited in order to encourage introspection and personal sharing, which can deepen connections among participants.

  5. Consultation: If you question a proposed topic, consult with elders, cultural mentors, or potential participants to gauge interest and gather ideas, ensuring the topic’s relevance and respectfulness. It can also be helpful to consult and collaborate with an elder to form a Talking Circle question. 

Selecting Participants:

The composition of the group can greatly influence the dynamics of a Talking Circle. Here are considerations for participant selection:

  1. Age Diversity: A range of participant ages can offer several different perspectives. Younger people can learn from watching the examples that parents, aunties, and elders provide. Elders can learn what interests the youth and which issues they are currently facing. This balance can foster rich discussions and intergenerational insights.

  2. Audience: Who is the audience receiving this service? Talking Circles can be useful for those recovering from substance abuse disorder, Tribal Department Directors, Mothers, Fathers, Youth, and any group who can benefit from this method of discussion. Who do you intend to bring together?

  3. Size of the Group: Keep the group size manageable, typically between 8 to 12 participants. This size allows ample time for each person to speak and be heard without overwhelming the circle. 

  4. Openness and Respect: Participants should be willing to share and listen respectfully. Participants must agree on the importance of maintaining a safe, confidential, and respectful space.

  5. Continuity Participants: If the circle is part of a series, consider having a core group of returning participants to build depth and trust. Over time, occasionally inviting new participants can refresh and diversify insights.

Invitations and Communications:

Communicate the purpose and expectations of the Talking Circle when inviting participants. Provide information about the topic, the structure of the circle, and any preparatory thoughts or materials that might help participants engage more deeply. This transparency helps set the tone and ensures participants are well-prepared and aligned with the circle’s objectives.

By thoughtfully selecting a topic and participants, facilitators can cultivate a Talking Circle that not only respects and honors cultural practices but also promotes meaningful dialogue and community connection.

In-Person Talking Circle Lesson Plan

Objective: To facilitate a culturally respectful Talking Circle that promotes open dialogue and respects each participant's voice, while incorporating measures to ensure the health and safety of all participants.

Materials Needed:

  • Medicine: Prepare medicine for cleaning the space, talking items, minds, bodies, and spirits. Choose a method that is relevant to your culture. 

  • Talking Item: Prepare a talking stick, doll, shell, or other culturally significant object to serve as the talking object. This item is used to denote who has the floor to speak, enhancing the circle's structure and respect for the speaker. The Talking item can also be used to release the speaker’s tension while talking to the group. For example, if the talking item is a doll, a participant can stroke the doll’s hair or play with her hands while talking to release emotions.

  • Refreshments: Sharing food is an important cultural aspect to the Talking Circle. Arrange for foods that feel welcoming and nourishing to the body. If your community is concerned about the spread of COVID-19, consider wrapped snacks and bottled water to minimize contact and maintain hygiene. Consider dietary restrictions and preferences to accommodate all participants.

  • Room Selection: If possible, select a room that is large enough to accommodate your group, yet intimate enough to have a private conversation. Do not select an open space that accommodates people to enter and exit, such as a restaurant or community gym. Select a room where the doors can close and your group will not be disturbed. Choose a venue that accommodates this setup comfortably. For example, a lecture hall with fixed seats will not accommodate the arrangement of a circle of chairs. 

  • Seating Arrangement: Set up chairs in a circle. If needed, bring a cushion or a pillow to accommodate elders. 

Facilitator Preparation:

  • Roles:

    • Lead Facilitator: Guides the discussion and ensures that the circle runs smoothly. This individual should be trauma-informed and can respond to each person as they share with the group. 

    • A facilitator’s role is to hold space for the participants and aid with the conversation. While a facilitator can take a turn to share as a participant during the Talking Circle, their main role is to facilitate and allow others to talk. 

      • The facilitator responds to each participant. This can be as simple and meaningful as thanking the participant for sharing. 

    • Cultural Bearer or Elder: Cleans the space with medicine. Depending on the group’s comfort level, the cultural bearer may want to provide a blessing to the group or the individual participants before the Talking Circle begins. This can also be a very special way to open the Circle. During the Talking Circle, the Cultural Bearer can also help those experiencing trauma or mourning the death of a loved one with a prayer or assist the facilitator with a response. 

    • Time Keeper: If the group is larger, it may be appropriate to designate a timekeeper. This individual would communicate with a signal to the group when each person is approaching their time limit to speak. If possible, and if time allows, it would be good to eliminate this role so that people are free to express themselves without feeling rushed. 

  • Learn and Understand Talking Circle Ground Rules: 

    • Once the Talking Circle is open, there is no leaving and reentering the Circle out of respect for the person speaking and for the space. This rule is good to mention before opening the Talking Circle so people can use the bathroom.

    • Share the ground rules as you open the Talking Circle.

    • Establish a sacred space using culturally relevant practices. You should feel the Talking Circle open and so should your participants. 

    • Communicate to participants the importance of a confidential space. 

    • Communicate the importance of listening to others within the group with respect and without interruption. Interruptions include talking without the Talking Circle item, eating, and arriving late.

    • Communicate the importance of entering into the Talking Circle with a good and open heart that is free from judgment. 

    • Speak one at a time and only when the participant speaking has the Talking Circle Item.

    • Participants can “skip” by handing the talking item to the participant sitting to their left. 

    • Participants can respond to one another, but they must ask to speak by motioning for the Talking Circle item.

    • It is okay if the conversation does not move in a circle, it can zig-zag and jump around, as long as the participant speaking has the Talking Circle item. The facilitator should provide a sharing opportunity for any participants who have not had an opportunity to speak. 

    • Establish a way to close the Talking Circle. You should feel the Talking Circle close, and so should the participants. 

  • Space Cleansing: Clean the space in a way that is culturally appropriate for your Tribal community. If traditional smudging is not allowed in the building, consider using sacred water, chewing on medicine, or using a medicine balm as an alternative.

  • Prepare Food: Set up an arrangement of food and water for participants. 

  • Prepare an Activity: Consider adding a small activity before the Talking Circle opens. This activity serves three purposes:

    • It helps to settle the participant’s energy before the Talking Circle.

    • The time it takes to complete the activity can establish the group's energy. 

    • If the activity includes the completion of a physical item, such as a beaded bracelet, participants can exchange gifts. This can be a powerful physical memento of their Talking Circle experience.  

  • COVID-19 Safety Measures: If your community is concerned about the transmission of COVID-19, flu, and colds consider the following preparations. 

    • Masks: Require all participants and facilitators to wear masks throughout the session. Provide masks at the entrance for those who may not have one.

    • Hand Sanitizer: Set up hand sanitizer stations at the entrance and around the seating area. Encourage participants to use sanitizer upon entering and after any interaction with shared items.

    • Ventilation: Ensure the space is well-ventilated. If possible, opt for an outdoor setting which naturally allows for better air circulation and reduced risk of virus transmission.

  • Opening the Talking Circle: Start with a culturally appropriate opening, such as smudging off, a short prayer, or a meditative moment to set the tone for respect and mindfulness throughout the session. 

Talking Circle Warm Up: (30 mins- 45 mins)

  1. Welcome each participant. 

    1. Let participants know they are free to come and go during this portion of the session, but once the Talking Circle opens, there is no exiting or entering. 

  2. Share a meal.

  3. Situate participants with the activity. 

  4. Announce the conclusion of the warm-up. Offer the participants an opportunity to use the restroom and request them to sit in the circle. 

Facilitating the Talking Circle: (60 mins)

  1. Opening the Circle:

    1. Clearly articulate the purpose of the talking circle.

    2. Introduce the role of the facilitator.

    3. Introduce the talking object, detailing its cultural significance and how it will be used during the session. 

    4. Review the ground rules.

  2. Discussion Phase:

    1. Participant Introductions: Invite each participant to introduce themselves. This part of the Talking Circle will move clockwise. Remember that participants should know that they can “pass” or “skip” free from judgment.

    2. Dialogue: Present a question to the group. It can be as simple and meaningful as “Please share something that has been on your mind this week.” Facilitate a dialogue where participants speak in turn from their seats, usually clockwise. This time, the participants can respond to one another by asking for the Talking Circle Item. 

  3. Closing the Circle:

    1. Communicate to participants that while the Talking Circle is closing, any bond we shared will remain connected. 

    2. Wind Down Activity: Lead a song, gentle stretching, or breathing exercise. This allows participants to physically and mentally transition from the circle's communal space.

    3. Closing Thanks: Conclude with a collective expression of gratitude for the shared time and insights, reinforcing the circle’s sense of community.

  4. After the Session

    1. Clean your Talking Circle item with medicine. 

    2. After participants have time to process their experiences, provide an opportunity for them to share their experiences of the circle and provide feedback, enhancing future circles.


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