Circle time isn’t just for kindergarten anymore.
My students start out each day in a large circle getting to know one another through discussions and activities. Does it take away from my ELA and Math instruction? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
I attended a conference last February and decided last minute to go to a final session on the concept of class meetings. I thought it would be an interesting session, but I didn’t expect to change my entire morning routine from a mere thirty minute session… which is just what I did on the train ride home for the following day.
As I see it, morning meetings are a must for any grade level. My fourth graders beg for morning meetings and hate when they get cut short. There are many benefits I see on a daily basis during our class meetings.
- Creating a Safe Space: No matter where my students come from or how they start their morning, morning meeting is a constant. It is a space where they are able to talk about who they are and how they feel openly with any peer. We also start each meeting by addressing their current thoughts and feelings, which I will dive into soon.
- Focusing on Social Emotional Learning Standards: These standards may seem difficult to justify focusing on, but they transfer to the rest of the day beautifully. Students work better in groups, seem generally happier, and have a stronger motivation and work ethic. I know as an elementary teacher that these years are crucial for a student’s development in so many ways and we need to make time to do this. Tired of combating girl drama, petty arguments, and poor teamwork? Try a meeting.
- Learning about my Students: This is the time of day where I get to learn so much more about my students than their abilities in reading or math. I learn about their home lives. I learn about their favorite soft drinks. I learn what their dream bedrooms look like. When I get a clearer picture of who my students are as people and not just learners, I am able to form a better connection to them and also plan ways to keep their attention.
- Building Community: It’s easy for students to get wrapped up in only speaking to their friends in class, but morning meetings encourage them to speak to others and also cooperate with them. It helps set the tone for both the rest of the day and the classroom in general. Ever since I started morning meetings, I have noticed the respect my students have for one another and their empathy skills are much higher than before.
So, how do I run morning meeting?
I use the responsive classroom model of morning meeting, which means every meeting has four main components–greeting, sharing, activity, and message. I also use this handy sheet to keep track of my simple meeting plans for the week.
Greeting: Every morning meeting starts with my students sitting in a circle. I encourage them to “not sit by their best friends,” which is fourth grade language for “sit by someone you don’t know deeply.” I also bring a ball to the circle. These are my favorite kind because if a student doesn’t throw it correctly, it sticks to the floor instead of bouncing everywhere! #teachertip The ball helps give a visual reminder to actively listen to whoever is holding it.
The purpose of the greeting is to individually greet every student. There’s just something about hearing your own name that makes you feel valued. I like to throw to the student directly across from me to start, then they throw it to the student beside me, and so on (zig-zag pattern is what we call it.) This eliminates students playing favorites while tossing or trying to remember who’s had it.
There are many ways to greet students and a quick Google of “morning meeting greetings” will give you a ton! My principal has our school “visit” another country each week on the announcements, so I have my students say good morning in that language.
Sharing: I put students into partners randomly based on who they are sitting by (they know to sit by a variety of people or else I’ll move them.) The first question I always tell them to talk about first with their partner is “How are you feeling today?” Students come from so many walks of life, and this acts as a “check-in” to see how their morning was and how they feel about the day. I listen into the conversations so I know what to watch for and, if I need to, have one-on-one conversations to nip those negative feelings and mindsets in the bud as early as possible. Some people I know like to use the Zones of Proximal Development and have their students identify a “zone” they are in.
If it’s a Friday, I have them talk about what they would like to do that weekend. If it’s a Monday, they talk about what they did over the weekend. Their favorite part is I always whip out my “fun question of the day.” I love asking students both quirky and insightful questions to discuss with one another. Here is the pack of questions I usually choose from.
Here’s the catch of sharing–they will be telling the class what their partner answered to the fun question. This ensures students are practice active listening skills. I started out the year by having students volunteer to share and clear it with their partner, but my class really loves to share, so we just go in a circle.
Activity: The activity is just that–a fun activity that the students do together! The goal of the activity portion of morning meeting is to have students cooperate with one another and build that community within your classroom. My personal favorite are activities that allow students to get to know one another better, but they don’t have to be. My students’ favorite just may be the classic Ships and Sailors!
Here are just some of my favorite morning meeting games:
- Similarities Race: Students find a random partner. Students want to be the first pair to sit down. Students may sit down after they figure out four specific things they have in common. For example, I may tell them to find four television shows they both enjoy or four games they like to play at recess. Then, I have students find a new partner and we do a few more.
- Order Up: I have students get into random groups of 3-4 students each. Then, I tell them a way to “order up” in a line. Anything that has a set order/numerical value will work such as alphabetically by middle name, shoe size, number of pets, and so on is fair game. When they have their order, they sit down. They want to be the first group to sit down.
- Guess The Leader: Everyone sits in a circle and I choose one student to go in the hallway to be the guesser. Then, I choose a student to be the leader. All students are going to be watching this student out of the corner of their eyes. The leader starts doing an action (clapping, patting head, dabbing, whatever) and the entire class imitates. The guesser comes back in and stands in the middle. The leader can change actions at any time and everyone must follow. The guesser has three guesses as to who the leader is.
- Alibi: I choose a random student to be the detective and send them in the hallway. Then, a random student decides on a crime that has been committed (My students tend to get pretty silly/creative with things someone stole. McDonald’s restroom soap is probably my most memorable.) Then, I randomly select the criminal. Students have to come up with an alibi to show that they could not have committed the crime (I was walking my dog, I was at the doctor, I was playing Xbox, whatever… they get pretty creative!) However, the criminal comes up with two alibis that are very similar (I was at the doctor, I was at the dentist, for example.) Then, the detective comes into the middle of the circle and listens to everyone go around and say an alibi. We do it a second time and the criminal uses their slightly changed alibi. The detective gets three guesses as to who committed the crime! Students get really into this game with creating accents and whatnot, it can be pretty entertaining! We also pass around my karaoke microphone for extra effect and engagement.
- Would You Rather: This is the classic “would you rather” question game! I have students go to a certain side of the room depending on which statement they agree with. A quick Google search gets you plenty of these, and love aligning them with seasons and holidays.
- Nim: This is a game of strategy that is usually perfect for a very small group, but my students love doing it in our large group. Students go one at a time around the circle counting to 21 one-by-one. Students can either say one, two, or three numbers in a row (so it could go 1, 2, 3… 4, 5, 6… 7… 8, 9…) Whichever student says the number 21 is out. Then, it starts over! The winner is the last student remaining. If you want to keep the strategy in it, have students pair up and play and then the winner challenges someone new.
- Entourage: This is the ultimate tournament of rock, paper, scissors. Students challenge each other to a classic game of rock, paper, scissors. The loser then cheers on the winner against a new opponent and follows them around the room as they challenge new people until they lose. In the end, it will be two students playing each other with the entire class cheering someone on!
- Farmer Game: One student sits at the front of the class and faces the wall. Then, I randomly select a student to say either “moo,” “quack,” or “cockle-doodle-doo!” The student has three guesses as to who said it. At Christmas time, I have students say “I am the Elf on the Shelf” and play Elf on the Shelf instead.
- Mystery Song: This is a newer addition to my classroom. I put slips of papers with basic songs written on them (usually children’s songs/songs everyone would know) in pairs or groups of threes into a hat/container. Students randomly select one and spread out around the room. When the game begins, there is no talking. Students must walk around humming their song and find their matches and link arms! At the end when everyone finds their matches, they go to the front of the class and hum to see if they do match up!
There are so many more games and activities, but those are some of my favorites! I also swear by pulling these cards out about once a week or as needed. Each card has a common tricky situation students may encounter in classroom, at recess, or wherever. How I use them is I strategically pick out scenarios that work on a skill we need to discuss/address, then partner kids up randomly. They discuss what both to do and what not to do in the situation, then they are the “experts” on the situation. Then, we reassemble as a class and discuss each scenario. The file also comes with blank cards to make your own as situations arise. Using these has really reduced the number of sticky situations that pop up (or really, frustrated students who do not react appropriately.)
Morning Message: This is the final step of every meeting, and you can tweak it for what you need. The thing I always do during the morning message is go over our schedule for the day. I also discuss our social-emotional skill of the month that we have as a school (so now is a great time to insert any school initiatives you may have!) We also as a school practice deep breathing/basic meditation all together, and this is a great place to put a “calm down” strategy.
Morning meeting has been an absolute game changer for my classroom community. If our schedule is crazy for some reason and it’s delayed, students are consistently asking if we’re still doing morning meeting, then get excited when I say we are (every time.) If you’ve made it this far through my post, I challenge you to either begin your own morning meeting or implement one new activity or strategy that would make your classroom climate a positive one. I’d love to hear about your own favorite morning meeting elements in the comments below!