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Bilingual Classroom Strategies Make Circle Time Fun & Engaging: 5 Strategies for Bilingual Teachers

Make Circle Time Fun & Engaging: 5 Strategies for Bilingual Teachers

How many times have you poured your heart into a circle time activity, only for it to vanish between a “Shhh, please” and a “Can everyone sit down?” Every teacher knows the struggle: interrupting the circle five million times to regain control, fielding endless “I don’t get its” and “Whys?”, and the inevitable bathroom break requests as soon as little bottoms hit the floor. It’s enough to make anyone throw their hands up in frustration!

But wait! There’s a way out of this circle time conundrum. By reflecting on how things are going, you can identify what works and what needs tweaking. Small adjustments can bring quick improvements, but for long-term success, dig a little deeper. Here’s your guide to making circle time a smooth and joyful experience for everyone.

Circle Time Every Day? Why?

Before diving in, take a moment to consider the purpose of circle time. Why is it important for you and your young learners to gather every day?

Bilingual Circle Time Fun

Sitting in a circle is an ancient tradition. We picture our ancestors debating and celebrating in circles, fostering democratic exchange of ideas. Similarly, according to Pinto et al.,

“a main reason for circle time is to learn dialogue, respect for others, and how to make agreements. This exchange of ideas contributes to children’s social development, benefiting the quality of their relationships and allowing them to express feelings, desires, and thoughts through conversation.”*

But how realistic is this in a bilingual setting, especially with toddlers? This begs the question: what function does the circle serve in your group?

Moments for Togetherness: What Stays in the Circle?

Consider which daily moments truly benefit from being experienced collectively, especially with the entire group at once. The answer lies in those moments that solidify the experience of being a group. Roll call, announcements, and routines are all perfect circle time fodder.

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Looking at the group and acknowledging each member, discussing absences, and using photos and names is practically a requirement in Early Childhood Education. And yes, it’s important! But we can always find ways to make these moments more engaging, participatory, and age-appropriate. Explore different strategies to keep things interesting – some take longer and are better suited for days with less on the circle time agenda, while others are quick wins for busier days. Speaking of time in the circle…

How Long is Too Long?

One of the biggest circle time killers is its duration. Ever feel like you’re talking to yourself, or maybe just one or two attentive souls? If you think it’s a language barrier, think again!

The ability to focus on one thing for extended periods only develops around age five. Before that, children’s attention spans are short and flit from one thing to another. Sure, we could train them to sit quietly and stare at us (think puppy training!), but that doesn’t equate to actual learning or engagement.

Therefore, keep your circle time concise: 5-7 minutes for children under 3, gradually increasing to 15-20 minutes for 5-6 year olds.

But What About All That Circle Time Stuff?

Here are 6 tips to ensure your little learners are truly present and engaged during circle time:

  1. Less is More! This applies to both time and the number of children! Keep it short and focused on a single objective. Remove unnecessary elements. Nobody needs to recite the days of the week every day to learn them!
  2. Ritualize! A song, a special cloth marking the circle space, a lamp lighting ritual, a greeting song – any symbol that signals circle time has begun helps children understand expected behavior. Consistency is key! Explain the meaning behind the ritual, especially for younger children. While it may take weeks for them to grasp the symbolism, this established ritual will save you time in the long run.
  3. Break the Circle! Trying to squeeze roll call, storytelling, flashcards, singing, calendar review, and individual weekend updates into one circle time is a recipe for “silence, please” requests galore. Open the circle for roll call, sing a song with movement, discuss the day’s routine, and close. Another time, you can sing again and read a story.
  4. Move It! Counterintuitive, right? You might think getting children up after finally settling them down spells disaster. But in practice, the opposite is true! Knowing there will be movement breaks helps children stay calm and focused for longer, leading to better cooperation. It’s a learning process – expect a chaotic adjustment period before things run smoothly. Movement doesn’t have to be everyone jumping up and down (though it can be!). It can be taking turns standing up, incorporating movement into songs, or pairs or trios leaving the circle for a quick action and returning. Feel free to experiment and tailor movement to your group’s needs and energy levels.
  5. Interaction is Key! Trash the teacher-centered lecture approach! Circle time is about communication and exchange, not a one-way street. Don’t dominate the conversation. Ask open-ended questions, encourage participation, and limit your own talking time. The dreaded “weekend update” activity, where everyone rushes to share with little listening, is a prime example of how not to do circle time. For genuine interest in weekends, have these conversations in smaller groups at a different time.
  6. Small Groups are Golden! This is the ultimate circle time success tip! Anything that doesn’t require the entire group’s participation is better suited for small groups. Flashcards? Small groups! Vocabulary practice? Small groups! Informal conversations to model/correct speech? Small groups! Reading practice? Small groups! In groups of four to six children, listening and being listened to become easier, allowing for focused mediation, observation, and documentation. This is the ideal scenario for fostering a strong teaching-learning connection! Planning activities for small groups frees up valuable circle time, minimizes distractions, and is one of the most effective classroom management tools at your disposal. Use it liberally and watch your circle time transform into an intentional and impactful experience.

See how circle time is a moment worth rethinking with intention? If you want to delve deeper into this topic, we offer courses that can help you create a circle time that runs smoothly. Click here or below to learn more about these courses and experience the joy of a smoothly rolling circle time!

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  1. Dasny Pestana de Pinto, Eliana Maria de Souza Cruz, Joilce Amorim Pinto, Terezinha Silveira Braga, Vanildes Célia de Paula. A IMPORTÂNCIA DA RODA DE CONVERSA NA EDUCAÇÃO INFANTIL Revista Ibero-Americana de Humanidades, Ciências e Educação. São Paulo, v.7.n.6. jun. 2021. ISSN – 2675 – 3375