Heather Randolph
World Cultures, Elementary Education, Language Education (ESL), Speaking and Listening, Social Science
Material Type:
Lesson Plan, Teaching/Learning Strategy
Lower Primary, Upper Primary, Middle School
  • Classroom Circles
  • Classroom Community
  • English Learners
  • Social-Emotional Learning
  • wa-sel
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Media Formats:
    Downloadable docs

    Education Standards

    Growing Your Classroom Community: SEL & Multilingual Learners

    Growing Your Classroom Community: SEL & Multilingual Learners


    Five-day unit plan that leverages the power of the Classroom Circle to teach classroom expectations, recognizing values, self-awareness, emotions, strengths and struggles, teamwork, and empathy. The Classroom Circle is a powerful tool in building a classroom community. It's a way to teach and practice expectations for speaking and listening, as well as creating a classroom that provides a safe place for students to be vulnerable, empathetic, and to build on their own self-awareness.

    Lessons for the first weeks of school to build classroom community, self awareness, and empathy

    Topics of Study: Classroom Circles/Morning Meetings, Culturally Responsive Practices, Supporting English Learners' Social Emotional: Lessons that can be used for the first week of school and throughout the school year

    Grade/Level: K-8, ELA lesson provided for Grade 3 (for adaptation to K-8)

    Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.

    Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.

    Washington State Common Core State ELA Anchor Standards:

    College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking/Listening, Reading, and Writing

    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

    Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.


    Washington State K-12 Social Emotional Learning Standards, Benchmarks, and Indicators:

    Standard 1: SELF AWARENESS-Individual has the ability to identify their emotions, personal assets, areas for growth, and potential external resources and supports.

     BENCHMARK 1A: Demonstrates awareness and understanding of one's own emotions and emotions' influence on behavior.

     BENCHMARK 1B: Demonstrates awareness of personal and collective identity encompassing strengths, areas for growth, aspirations, and cultural and linguistic assets.

    BENCHMARK 1C: BENCHMARK 1C - Demonstrates self-awareness and understanding of external influences, e.g., culture, family, school, and community resources and supports.

    STANDARD 4 - SOCIAL AWARENESS – Individual has the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

    BENCHMARK 4A - Demonstrates awareness of other people’s emotions, perspectives, cultures, languages, histories, identities, and abilities.

    BENCHMARK 4B - Demonstrates an awareness and respect for similarities and differences among community, cultural and social groups.

    BENCHMARK 4C - Demonstrates an understanding of the variation within and across cultures.

     Lesson Objectives:

    • Students will learn to speak to a group and listen while others speak.
    • Students will learn about similarities and differences within the classroom and with our families. (Extension will be to make symbolic flag for families which leads into the US Symbols lesson).
    • Students will learn the meaning of strengths and struggles and begin to understand what their own strengths and struggles are, as well as become socially aware of their peers' strengths and struggles
    • Students will learn how they can help others in the class throughout the year, as well as others in their families.
    • Students will determine a theme of a read-aloud (emotions, empathy, etc) and how a character feels and or changes during the story
    • Students will demonstrate understanding of new cultures and langauges by using words, procedures, and customs of other cultures as well as their own

    Instructional Materials:

    • Feather or something to use as a “talking piece” to get to hold while talking. (have an "imaginary" talking piece when concerns for health safety are considered)
    • White board or easel paper, sticky paper.
    • Paper to draw, colored pencils, handout: Sometimes I help / Sometimes I need help
    • Trade books to read with characters who help others. (Resource list in Read Alouds Section)
    • Create or find a handout that shows pictures of faces of different emotions which students can circle.

    INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN - DAY ONE--Community Circle Practice

     Student Prerequisite Skills/Connections to Previous Learning: None

    Presentation Procedures for New Information:

    • Seat student on floor in a circle. Teacher shows how to use the feather/talking piece to hold while answering questions.
    • What was the highlight of your summer? (Students stand to answer, then pass feather).
    • Tell how the daily morning meeting will work with everyone getting a chance to share if desired.
    • Tell students to follow instructions regarding standing or sitting to answer questions. 

    Guided Practice:

    Examples for teacher: “Stand up if you are…” You can also use culturally responsive attention 

    • they are the oldest sibling
    • they are the youngest sibling
    • they are excited to be back in school
    • they are a middle child
    • they are a twin
    • they are the only child in their family
    • they live in an apartment
    • they grew up or live in a small neighborhood or  in the country
    • they like sports (Then if they like sports as a fan or as an athlete/participant. What sports? What are you good at?)
    • they can speak more than one language--what? (this will lead to using different words from other languages as attention signals or within lessons as appropriate)
    • do you like to read, draw, count, sing?
    • Ask students to raise hands if they prefer standing as a group or standing alone. Pass feather and have them answer alone same question. Group discussion: why do we prefer one over the other. What does it mean to stand up for yourself? What does it mean to stand up for others? What are some things we learned about each other?

    Independent Student Practice:

    • Pass out drawing paper and have students draw themselves standing up for something they believe in or standing up for themselves for something about themselves. On the other side have them draw how they could stand up for someone else (role play what this would look like). Teacher writes the words they use to describe their drawings. Hang or post drawings.

    Culminating or Closing Procedure/Activity/Event:

    • Students return to carpet. Remind students about respectful speaking and listening skills. Ask for group sharing about how they can stand up for themselves and for others. Talk about being unified as a classroom "family" or "team".

    INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN - DAY TWO (See Classroom Community Circle Content Plan for read aloud lesson)

     Student Prerequisite Skills/Connections to Previous Learning:

              Expectations of respectful listening and speaking.

    Presentation Procedures for New Information:

    Seat student on floor in a circle and use the talking piece.

    What are some procedures we should all follow?  (For each classroom circle/meeting procedure suggested by students ask: Why? and lead a discussion to help students understand the reasons behind rules and procedures. For example: Why should we be quiet while walking in line to other classrooms? Why should we keep our hands to ourselves while moving in the hallway or listening to the teacher?)

    Guided Practice:

    • The teacher makes a simplified list of the Circle procedures. Students practice reciting/talking about rules for moving through the hall, rules for listening while the teacher is talking, rules for moving about during independent learning time, etc.
    • Procedures to guide students to include: Right to Pass, Use Postive Words, Use "I-statements", Active Listening, Appreciation of Others, Demonstrate Interest by nodding heads or an "Aloha" hand gesture, etc.

    Independent Student Practice:

    • Pass out drawing paper and have students draw what it looks like to follow one of the procedures.

    Culminating or Closing Activity:

    • Have students share their pictures and explain the procedure they chose to demonsrate. Ask each time: Why is it important to follow that rule/procedure and have the student answer or get help from others to answer?

    EXTENSIONS- Class Flag / Symbol

    Students could work together to design a class flag with agreed upon symbols to represent cooperating to follow rules and respect each other’s learning.

    INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN - DAY THREE (For ELA CCSS integration, See Read Aloud Content Activity section)

    adapted from lesson by Teaching Tolerance

     Student Prerequisite Skills/Connections to Previous Learning

     Expectations of respectful listening and speaking.

    Presentation Procedures for New Information:

    • Seat student on floor in a circle and use the talking piece. Introduce feelings and direct teach vocab word: EMPATHY
    • Group or partner discussion: What is a time when you wish someone would have understood how you felt but he/she did not? How can we do things to better understand how someone else feels?

    Guided Practice:

    • Teacher reads aloud a book from the SEL/CRT/EL RESOURCE page list. S/he has students work in elbow circle partners to explain how they think other people would feel. Then ask: What can we do in those situations to show we understand the feelings of others?

    Independent Student Practice:

    • Give each student a copy of the handout with faces that show emotions. Ask them to choose the correct picture to show the correct emotion for a situation read by the teacher. This is a great opportunity to use culturally appropriate emotions (for example, eye contact in some cultures is threatening, so the emotion shown on a face might be different from that of another culture) Research the cultures your students come from to ascertain differences and similarities that can guide your questions.
    • Give each student a role to act out. In small groups they act out a realistic social situation, as directed by teacher. Then as a whole group they come to a consensus about how to resolve conflict in a way that shows empathy.

    Culminating or Closing Activity:

    • Show a poster with pictures to symbolize feelings. Explain how students can use the poster when they feel stuck for how to describe their feelings.

    INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN - DAY FOUR "Star of the Week"

    adapted from lesson by The teaching channel

    Student Prerequisite Skills/Connections to Previous Learning:

    Expectations of respectful listening and speaking.

    Presentation Procedures for New Information:

    • Explain that there will be a student of the day/week. This will be the “Star of the Week.” This student will answer questions by others to write a “bio” about this person.
    • Have the students ask the teacher questions (i.e., what is your favorite color?) and write the answers on chart paper or smartboard to create a teacher biography

    Guided Practice:

    • Choose a student of the week. Put cape on the student or a crown or something to symbolize being the star. That student will call on others for the questions and the teacher will write the bio. Have students practice “reading” the bio to show what they’ve learned about the star. Have the students focus last on questions about the student’s family.
    • Make a web about families. Discuss similarities and differences of all our families.

    Independent Student Practice:

    • Students can choose a symbol(s) and color(s) that represent their own family and draw their own family flag.

    Culminating or Closing Activity:

    • Students can share their family flags and explain them before taking them home.

    INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN - DAY FIVE --Similarities and Differences--Diversity 

    adapted from lesson by Teaching Tolerance

     Student Prerequisite Skills/Connections to Previous Learning:

    Expectations of respectful listening and speaking.

    Presentation Procedures for New Information:

                Students sit in circle on carpet and use the speaking feather.

    • Teacher begins by modeling sentence to tell what I am good at and what is hard for me.

    Guided Practice:

    • Go around the circle and each student answers at least one thing for: What are you good at? What is hard for you to do?
    • Group discussion: Does everyone have to be good at everything?

    Direct Instruction:

    • Directly teach the vocab words: strengths and struggles.
    • Group discussion about how we can ask for help with our struggles and about how someone else’s strengths complement our struggles.

                Guided Practice:

    • Have students work in partners to discuss their own strengths and struggles and to come up with ways they could help each other.
    • Have them practice asking for help with something with which they struggle.

    Independent Student Practice:

    Culminating or Closing Activity:

    Students can share their pictures and explain them. Teachers will arrange pictures like a classroom quilt  or poster to refer to throughout the year as a reminder to students that we all have strengths and we all have struggles, but we can help each other and together be stronger.

    Tomi Sue Wille

      Creative Commons License  

    Classroom Community Circles

    Day One--no procedures established yet

    Classroom Community Building ActivityVirtual/In-person Learning

    Title:  All About Me

    Participants:  Whole class

    Materials: None

    Instructions:  This activity will provide an opportunity for the students to not only learn about each other, but also build on their own self-awareness.  Ask students to stand/sit in a circle (options: do this outside or students pivot in their desk chairs. Make the following statements while modeling the action you want students to demonstrate and ask the class to respond according to the instructions:

    1. Everyone who is feeling happy today, clap your hands.
    2. If you have one or more  brothers, blink your eyes.
    3. If you have one or more sisters, raise both hands.
    4. If you have a dog, raise your right hand.
    5. If you have a cat, raise your left hand.
    6. If you have a different kind of pet, raise both hands.
    7. If your favorite color is green, flap your arms like a chicken.
    8. If your favorite color is blue, cover your eyes. (Peak to see friends who also like blue).
    9. If your favorite color is red, oink like a pig.
    10. If your favorite color is purple, pull on your ears.
    11. If your favorite color is different, wave hello, (Ask those students to say their favorite color simultaneously).
    12. If you like to play outside, touch your nose.
    13. If you like video games, touch your forehead.
    14. If you like soccer, whisper “me”
    15. If you like playing tag, clap your hands over your head.
    16. If you like school, wink your eye.
    17. If you like to swim or play in water, wiggle in your chair.
    18. If you like books, put your hands on your knees.

     Ask students:  From watching others in the classroom, what do you know about each other after this activity?  What were some of the things that most everyone in the room responded to or liked?  Why is it important that we know things about each other?


    Classroom Community Circle with Read Aloud Plan

    The purpose for read alouds in your class is to not only be a model of a fluent reader, but to bridge all students to more independent reading levels, and it allows students to enjoy reading by lowering the affective filter. Choral reading, echo reading, and fill-in-the-blank reading can also be strategies to use with large size books that students can read the print/on the whiteboard screen.

    1. Start with your class in the Classroom Circle, and do a quick check in on feelings to start the day with thumbs up, down, sideways. Note students with thumbs down to check in with later.

    2. Introduce the book I Am Enough by Grace Byers

    Great book to launch a self-awareness them to help students feel  proud of who they are. It can be easy for some students to feel pressure to be popular, but this book is a great reminder that each of your students is unique and has something amazing to offer the classroom--language, culture, talents.

    3. READ & DISCUSS QUESTIONS that facilitate social emotional learning, and address speaking and listening CCSS. 

    • In your head,  name three things that you like about yourself (model one to students with sentence frame, " I like______ about myself. I also like______ and _______."

    • The author compares herself to various things and parts of the natural world to describe her strength, beauty, and presence. She says, "Like the sun, I'm here to shine" and "Like time, I'm here to be." For grades 3-8,  have students work with elbow partner to create their own simile. What is something from the natural world that you are like? And how are you like that something? 

    • The author writes, "We don't look the same. That doesn't dictate our worth." What does that mean to you?  What does it mean to them? 

    • The author describes herself as the rain. In her read aloud, she talks about this part of her writing. What does it mean for you to pour, drip, and fall like the rain? What can you pour? What do you drip? And what will you let fall like the rain? 

    • Use this guide for more speaking opportunities: for English Learners:

    Other books that highlight social awareness:

    Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World 

    by Miranda Paul & Baptiste Paul

    One important procedure to review the first day of school is transportation – both arrival and dismissal procedures. However, it can be a challenge to make this process engaging. It's truly just one of those must-do activities.By reading Adventures to School with your students, you can introduce the idea of social awareness--even within our school community we get to school different ways. This book shows this across the world, and might include some cultures represented in your class.  The book shares how thirteen different students from around the globe get to school each day. While all the journeys are different, each ends with the same goal.

    Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson Lesson Plan K-5


    Read Alouds with English Learners:



    Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices

    Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices to add to the Classroom Circle/Classroom Meeting, can faciliate a teacher's conversations with students.  These practices can help you:

    Build better relationships with your students

     Why cultivating literacy skills isn’t enough--leveraging language and culture assets can accelerate 

    How to break down the barriers to equity

    SEL/CRT/EL Resources

    These are links to additional websites that provide great information, resources, and supports for teachers to use the Classroom Circle to engage students in developing self-awareness and social awareness. Read Aloud Suggestions Morning Meeting videos Social Cues and Self Awareness Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson lesson plan

    Culturally Responsive Texts: Dr. Sharroky Hollie

    Sentence Frames for English Learners to use during Read Alouds--have these written on the board by the Classroom Circle, or have them already typed on a Smartboard screen on different pages