Circle 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.