Reflection Circle Guide

Lead a reflection circle to help students share about their virtual exchange experience.

Each Empatico experience concludes with a reflection circle. This gives students time to make sense of their experience and those of others in a way that leads to deeper, more mindful learning. In particular, Empatico believes reflection promotes perspective taking, supports the development of empathy, and helps create positive expectations for meeting people outside your own community.

Reflection Circles are important because they...

1) Help learners develop their ideas, enhance understanding of other perspectives, and increase awareness of their own learning process

2) Enable students to connect their past and present experiences, which contributes to personal and academic growth

3) Make student thinking visible, allowing teachers to hear students’ perceptions and developing ideas

4) Build community and encourage honest, authentic dialogue that is necessary to effectively respond to challenging issues and circumstances

What makes a Reflection Circle work?

1) Open seating arrangement: Circles support reflection because they create a sense of community and equity. Everyone in the circle should be able to see everyone’s face without having to move. Ensure the circle has a clear central space by removing any furniture beforehand. Students should know how to move easily from their typical seating arrangement (e.g., rows of desks) to a circle as needed.

2) Clear conversation guidelines: Reflective and exploratory talk thrives in a safe, respectful class culture. Create and nourish this kind of classroom talk by establishing norms for reflection circles, which you can introduce and post at circle time, such as: 

3) Ensure all students can participate: Just as clear visibility matters, so does the clarity of each voice. Choose a circle talking structure that creates a sense of familiarity and ensures all students can contribute. Possible conversation structures:

4) Meaningful talk: Meaningful discussions make circles worth having. This means starting with quality questions and ensuring quality talk. Each Empatico experience suggests a unique set of discussion questions, which reflect our belief that open-ended questions prompt deeper thinking, while narrow (yes-no) questions can limit quality discussion. Teach students how to relate their ideas to other students’ ideas and experiences. You might post the following sentence frames to support students:

5) Clear circle closure: When it’s time to end, ask students to comment on their circle experience. Then, close the circle by ringing a bell or making a specific signal that indicates it’s time to move back from circle time to ordinary time. Intentionally closing the circle makes the experience feel special.

The teacher’s role during reflection circles

1) Wait for students to answer: After posing a question... wait! (for 3 or more seconds!) Consider asking students to show a signal (e.g. a raised thumb) when they have an idea to share, and open discussion when the majority of students are ready. Research shows increased wait time leads to more thoughtful student responses, increased student-to-student exchanges, and greater student participation.

2) Support group cohesion and community: Ensure the reflection circle allows everyone to hear and be heard while keeping students talking to each other (not to you, the teacher).

3) Focus on ideas: Expect good listening and keep everyone on the same page by asking students to repeat key ideas. For example: 

4) Link contributions: Help students link their ideas to the on-going conversation by using questions like these:

5) Press for reasoning: When students respond with brief or surface answers (e.g., “I agree.”) press students to explain their reasoning. Use questions like these to draw out logical connections ands reasoning:


Caldwell, M. (2017, Jan 30). How to listen with compassion in the classroom. Greater Good Magazine: Science-based insights for a meaningful life (UC Berkeley). Retrieved from

Clifford, M. A. (2013). Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles. Center for Restorative Process. Retrived from

Glenview Elementary. (2014, July 1). Using dialogue circles to support classroom management. Edutopia. Retreived from

Michaels, S., O’Connor, C., Hall M. W., & Resnick, L. B. (2010). Accountable Talk Sourcebook: For Classroom Conversation that Works. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Institute for Learning.

Responsive Classroom. (2017). Principles & Practices. Retrieved from

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