The Importance of Circle Time

Circle TimeCircle Time is the way I start my classes with young learners ages 4-7. Every teacher has their own routines and management style, but I think that Circle Time is a must at this age. Let’s have a look at why I think so.

The physical layout of any classroom will vary but I make it a point to make space for Circle Time. For years, I used a rectangular piece of rug and students sat in rows facing me. Students could see me and follow along. I could talk directly to each of them and make eye contact (extremely important) but something was lacking in this set up. Finally, I decided to make some changes. Using my rug (now folded longways) and two other long pieces of fabric, I was able to fashion a U-shaped seating area. When it’s warm I don’t use the rugs, but the floor gets cold in the winter so students need something to sit on. The reason I’m going into so much detail is that I think it’s important that teachers take the physical environment of their classrooms into account and take action to make it a pleasant place for learning. So often we as teachers reflect on teaching style, feedback methods, etc. without paying much attention to the physical aspects of the classroom when they’re just as important.

Routines are essential in the YL classroom and Circle Time is part of our routine. Students know exactly what to do upon entering the classroom: they hang up their school bags and jackets/coats, put any toys they’ve brought on the toy table and sit down on the rug. This helps get them settled and ready for English. The first activity we do normally involves some sort of greeting. I always say ‘Hello, hello, hello’, and they respond in the same way. In different ways, we ask questions like, ‘How are you today?’, ‘What’s your name?’, ‘What’s the weather like today?’, ‘What’s your favorite animal/food/color?’. By different ways I mean that sometimes I ask each of them, sometimes they ask me, sometimes we ask in the form of a chain- one asking another until we’ve gone around the room or sometimes they roll a ball to the student they want to ask. The layout of Circle Time facilitates all of these variations and helps create a sense of community during the very first activity.

The seating arrangement of Circle Time is also very democratic. Everyone has a front row seat and we can all see each other. This encourages students to interact with me as well as amongst themselves, helping to create a more student-centered environment. It’s what was missing from my original set up.

Classroom management is another key issue with young learners. Students at this age have rather short attention spans and are easily distracted. Some students are also a bit hesitant to participate in singing songs and in activities like role-playing. Using eye contact is an excellent tool to get students’ attention or encourage them to participate; it’s easy to establish eye contact when students are sitting or standing in a circle.

Taking all of the above into consideration, Circle Time lends itself to certain activities. Here’s a list of some of what we do during Circle Time:

-choral and individual drilling of new vocabulary/phrases
-passing around and discussing realia or flashcards; e.g. Musical Flashcards: each student has a flashcard and they pass them around until the music stops. When it stops, students say what’s on their flashcard.
-singing songs together and doing the actions that go along with them, either sitting down or standing up
-acting out role-plays or stories
-listening to (and helping me tell) stories
-any sort of TPR activity
-question chains (described above)

Giving instructions is also something I prefer to do during Circle Time. Students have no books, pencils, folders, etc. to distract them and maintaining eye contact to keep their attention is much easier. They’re also close enough to see the book or worksheet that I want them to work on. I can explain the instructions in English, show them the model, ask them ICQs and have them ask me any questions they may have. The close proximity keeps their focus on me and the task I want to explain how to do. Discussing the instructions as a group also helps me avoid repeating myself later too many times (although there are always one or two…).

Circle Time is an important part of the classroom experience I share with my students. Please share with me your thoughts on using Circle Time with young learners as well as any activities you find useful.

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About careymicaela

I've been teaching Young Learners and Very Young Learners for over ten years now. My degrees are in Psychology and Spanish. I also completed my TEFL certification in Madrid and the Ih Young Learners Course in Seville. I enjoy working with children and sharing those experiences with other teachers. In my free time (when that exists!) I like to read, listen to music, practice yoga and go on long cycling routes with my husband.
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10 Responses to The Importance of Circle Time

  1. Hada says:

    Hi Micaela, Congratulations on the new blog! I love the look and great first post too. It reminded me of my years teaching YLs..many many moons ago! I really enjoyed the detailed description – I could almost visualise it all.
    Something YLs also love is having a day in the week when they can show something of their’s to their mates – a sort of mini ‘show and tell’ exercise. Let’s say every Monday (firs tday of the week after the weekend usually works well), they’re invited to bring something to share during circle time.
    Look forward to reading you again.
    Hx

    Like

  2. Zhenya says:

    Hi Micaela, thank you very much for sharing the Circle Time idea and reminding me of this wonderful age of students! Like Hada, I used to work with small kids, and find them amazing learners (and humans). I like the idea of having routines and totally agree that a circle and holding hands is a helpful classroom management element for a number of reasons. I also tried having areas for specific things in the room (you mentioned toys that kids bring, and putting them in their own ‘classroom’ in the corner might be an example of such an area)
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts! 🙂
    Zhenya

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  3. Hana Tichá says:

    A nice and useful post, Micaela.
    I agree with you; the seating arrangement is very important. I believe that circle is one of the most effective arrangements and it can do wonders with learners of all ages. I normally use a horseshoe but the other day I needed to connect the outer parts of it (to make the passing of sheets of paper possible round the class) so I moved the two outer desks to turn the horseshoe into a circle. It felt totally different and I could sense the change in the students’ behavior immediately. The classroom suddenly seemed cozier any the flow of the energy was much smoother. The only drawback was that the ‘connected’ students could not longer face the board. But it wasn’t necessary for this particular activity.
    I also love doing Circle Time with YL – for all the reasons you skillfully describe in your post.
    Hana

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    • careymicaela says:

      Hi Hana! Thanks for sharing your experiences with Circle Time. Normally, our circle ends up looking like a horse-shoe too. I usually have the board behind me and, as you mentioned, in order for all the students to see we usually form a U instead of a complete circle.
      Thanks again for ‘stopping by’. 🙂 Hope to ‘see’ you again soon on #eltchat.
      Micaela

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  4. Dina Gordon says:

    Great stuff Micaela! Really enjoyed reading it and look forward to more posts. I use circle time with my little ones too. I use it at different stages of the lesson. First to get rid of any unnecessary use L1(may be a bit controversial), they can share something from their day in Spanish and I’ve found it lessens the chit chat. I also use it to tell stories and play flash card cames such as ‘Grab’. To play ‘grab’ I place the flash cards in the middle of the circle (face up) and I start the activity by saying one of the vocab items and they try to be the first to touch or grab the card. The ss that succeeds must repeat the vocab item with correct pronunciation in order to keep the card. They then go on to lead the activity.
    I usually do a question chain in a line where they have to turn to face the person begins them and as a question then the last person runs to the run to start the chain again. I will try doing it in a circle for a change and let you know how it goes.
    I like your idea of using the circle to explain tasks without the distraction of pencils,etc.
    I’ll put that into practice.

    Thanks 🙂

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    • careymicaela says:

      Hi Dina!! Great to see you here on wordpress. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with Circle Time. ‘Grab’ sounds like an activity that my students would really enjoy. I’ll try it out sometime. Talk to you soon. xx

      Like

  5. T Bestwick says:

    Great first post, Micaela. You speak with such obvious passion for what you’re doing and the detail you go into really helped me to visualise your setup and how it could work in our centre.
    I’m looking forward to reading more…
    T 🙂

    Like

    • careymicaela says:

      Thanks T! I’m glad you enjoyed the post about Circle Time. I’ve been reading your blog as well and you’ve posted some really great activities. Thanks for sharing them. We’ll be in touch soon. xxMicaela

      Like

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