Never underestimate the power of getting a group of people to form a circle. There’s SO MUCH you can do! Add a ball, and you have about a gazillion types of games you can play. Add some yarn or string and you have multiple group activities/lessons. Add chairs and you have one of my favorite games (“I love my neighbor who…”).

When I train youth and/or adults on how to lead a group of people, I usually tell them: when you’re not sure what to do, have everyone get in a circle. The truth is, it takes people a long time to figure out how to move their bodies to form a circle. So that gives you as a the leader, at least 60 seconds, if not minutes, to figure out what you’re going to do with the group once they are in the circle.

Depth of meaning
I usually work with groups of people who are not the same. (Who IS the same, really?) What I mean is, the group of individuals may not see themselves (yet) as a group. They see the differences between them and the other people in the group. One of my greatest joys is helping people come together and celebrate one another and the community that can form when different people come together as one. The possibilities are endless! So even though a group of people forming a circle may not seem like a big deal, at first glance…you are asking a group of people who see themselves as different individuals who may not have anything in common with the others in the group to work together to make something. That’s a big deal! And if they can make a circle, that means they can communicate. And if they can communicate, wow! more possibilities!

Conflict Prevention/Resolution
Imagine this…one hundred children ages five through eleven running around a playground smaller than the size of half a football field…at the same time. Solution? Form a circle!
Notice that some of your group is going off on their own and forming a clique and/or that there are others in the group who are being left out/excluded…form a circle!
Have you reached the end of the group’s attention span and are trying to decide what to do next? Form a circle!
Are you sensing that anger or frustration or some other uncomfortable feeling is creeping into the group and you aren’t sure what to do about it? Form a circle!

Circles in and of themselves symbol completeness, wholeness, oneness. A pizza, a pie, a cake – things that everyone loves come in circles. Circles can bring people together, change the attitude of a group, set the tone of a meeting, provide a common space for sharing, etc. Hopefully by now you get the point – circles are awesome!

Okay, we’re in a circle – now what?
People hate when I do this, but I often answer a question with a question.
Now what? Well, what is your goal? What is the purpose of this group gathering? What problem were you trying to solve when you called the group to form a circle? Below are ideas in various categories on what to do when you have your group in a circle. Enjoy, and feel free to add your own ideas in the comments! Note: I will be adding on to this list as time goes by, so check back for more ideas later!

Fun & Games

  • Warmup: Toss an object across the circle, saying the person’s name before you toss it. If someone drops the object, start over again. Work together to improve your time and your ability to communicate as you pass the object. Add a second or third object to make things more challenging. (Note: with children even just tossing one ball around a circle may take FOREVER. this can be a wonderful tool to get a newly gathered group to work together. Don’t underestimate the simplicity of the ball toss! Also, there are tons of ways to make it more challenging.
  • Have a chair for each person except one, who stands in the middle. Have the person in the middle say their name and the statement “I love my neighbor who…” and finish the statement with a category or characteristic such as “who loves soccer” or “who wears glasses” or “who ate breakfast this morning.” Depending on your group, set appropriate perimeters so as not to single anyone out or make anyone uncomfortable. Anyone who fits that category gets out of their chair and tries to find another chair to sit in. Whomever is the last one without a chair gets to be in the middle to start the next phrase. Depending on your group, everyone may WANT to be in the middle, so have fun with that, ha.
  • Flash – Ask a question, any question. Have participants go around the circle and answer the question with the first thing that pops in their head. Then, allow people in the group to ask a question. This is especially fun because it allows people’s curiosity to run free…think about it, what is something you’ve always wanted to know about someone in your group but didn’t have the courage to ask? You can also use this as a “would you rather” scenario of questioning.

Discussion Tool
Note: Circles are a great way to help participants feel comfortable in the space. Once they share aloud even just one word, they feel more comfortable sharing other things. I often use the “one word” thing as a warmup and a debrief, so that each person feels like they contributed something.

  • Warm-up: Tell a story as a group; have the first person say one sentence to start the story, the next person adds to the story with their sentence, etc. Once you get around the circle once or twice, move on to your topic of the day. Note: look for clues in the group story that you may possibly tie into the topic of the day – the more absurd the story, the better – that way they will remember the topic because of the silly story.
  • Warm-up: Go around the circle and share… one word that describes how you’re feeling today (or how your week has been, or what you hope will happen in today’s meeting, etc.)
  • For a quicker experience, go around the circle, person to person, clockwise or counterclockwise. For a more “surprise” experience – pass the ball (or other object, or imaginary ball) to someone across the circle; when they catch it, it’s their turn to share
  • Quick Answer – invite participants to share the first thing that pops in their head
  • Give each participant something to play with in their hands while you discuss something. Being in a circle, they are more apt to talk, and being able to play with something in their hand helps them focus. (ex. playdough, paper clip, pipe cleaner)
  • Debrief: Go around the circle and share…one thing you will remember about today’s meeting, one word that describes today; one thing that you learned today; one word or phrase that summarizes our topic today; one action you will take this week, etc.

Take the classic “pass the yarn around the circle and talk about how we are all one connected web” and put your own spin on it. Consider the goal for your group and turn the meaning of the yarn/object that you pass around the circle into that. The beauty of the yarn pass around the circle is that is it something that people TOUCH and feel, and the interconnectedness that the yarn makes when it is tossed around the circle is something beautiful that people can SEE. As much as you can incorporate the many ways that people learn and absorb information, the more they will be engaged and remember.

Example: Our confirmation class was learning about the United Methodist Connection. The closest object I could find around the room was red crepe paper. We gently passed the red crepe paper around the circle as we each shared one thing that we loved about the church. Without prompting, middle schoolers will blurt out something like, “it looks like a web!” If they don’t, invite them to share what they think it looks like. Accept more than one answer. What are the things that connect us together as one? (the obvious, this paper; the floor; the building; God, etc.) Ask a third of your group to drop their part of the paper. What does it look like now? We aren’t connected anymore. Now show me how would God respond to our broken connection? (they begin to try to put the pieces back together the way they were, and struggle) – what are you trying to do? put things back together. Etc. Etc.

I invite you to use your imagination and consider, how can you use circles with your group? Share in the comments. Grace & Peace be with you all!

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