What is a story circle and how do we facilitate one?

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A story circle is a group of people sitting in a circle and sharing stories about their experience on a given topic or theme. The story circle may be used to build community within a group, to examine difference across lines of race or class, to explore social challenges that people are facing in their own lives, or for some other purpose. The method has been used extensively by Roadside Theater, and they call it “Our tested storytelling method for empowering community members.” The following information is paraphrased and condensed from Roadside Theater’s guidelines and FAQs on story circles.

Allow informal time beforehand.

Assemble a group of 5 to 15 people for the story circle. Meet in a quiet place free from distractions. If possible, have some informal socializing time before the story circle begins, such as a potluck meal.

Introduce the story circle.

Have a facilitator introduce the story circle and state the theme of the story circle or lead the group in deciding what that theme will be. The facilitator asks participants to briefly review the typical elements of a story—plot, characters, atmosphere, and so on; this process reminds participants to tell a story—not to give a lecture or present an argument. The facilitator states what time the story circle is to end and asks people to keep this in mind when telling their stories.

Keep things moving.

Roadside’s story circle guidelines include that everybody in a story circle must participate and that participants listen to one another’s stories and not comment on them (except to say, when their turn comes, “That reminds me of something that happened to me”). During the story circle, the facilitator may give a signal agreed on beforehand if someone is taking up an undue share of time, and she may use her judgment to stop the story circle if someone becomes distressed. Allow silence after each story.

Allow time for comment.

After everyone has told a story, allow some time for people to comment on what they’ve heard. When possible, end the story circle with a group song or poem that helps “bring closure to the spirit of the particular Story Circle.” Make space available for people to talk after the story circle ends; they often will, as something during the story circle will have piqued their interest or compassion.

Consider some possible topics.

The topic or theme of your story circle depends on your goal. A few possible topics of story circles that I have led or participated in include:

  • A time when I made a change in someone’s life
  • A person who cared for me when I needed it
  • A time when I was discriminated against or felt I was judged unfairly
  • The experience that got me involved in my cause or organization
  • “An important value to me is ______. A person who taught me that value was ______. An experience I had with that person that taught me this value was…”

Further exploration:

  • Roadside Theater offers a page of resources on what story circles are and how to do them, and even video of sample circles.