Circle Time

Ten Tips for Circle Time by JUDY GAIL ORTIZ


Here are Ten Tips for making circle time more than just a routine experience but instead an engaging and interesting experience in the preschool classroom. Circle time is a time when our students come together as a community of learners. As a community, we share our thoughts, listen to one another, actively participate together, introduce new concepts and ideas, read together, sing together, and build a sense of respect and support for one another.

Tip #1:  Think of circle time as a way to foster a sense of community where everyone is a valued member of that community.

Make it an interactive experience. When planning for circle time, always be thinking of ways to invite the kids to actively participate in the experience and not just be passive observers of the experience. An interactive experience means that the children are being invited to actively get involved. Whether it is simply passing an object around the circle to take a closer look, singing a song together, playing a game, retelling a story or sharing their ideas the children are constantly being invited to interact with the teacher and with one another, and with the materials used at circle time.

Tip #2:  Make circle time an interactive experience, seek out ways to keep your students actively involved in the circle time experience rather than passively sitting while you do all the talking. 

Make it a hands on experience. When planning for circle time, spend time gathering tools and materials that the children can physically touch and manipulate to further their understanding of a concept you hope to promote or introduce. Spending a few minutes working with simple tools and materials as a whole group, giving guidance and insight to the children about the tools or materials used.

Tip #3: Gather tools and materials for the children to physically touch and manipulate during circle time. Make circle time a hands-on-and-do experience rather than just a hands-in-your-lap experience.

Make sure to integrate time for physical movement, make it a movement experience, as well as time for sitting. To get the children moving, I tend to rely on lots of music and movement which means you will need to spend time learning songs and action rhymes that you will be able to whip out anytime as needed.  Some of the music and movement actions may fit along with the discussion point or theme we are exploring and some of them may just be something the children love. Don’t get stuck on the idea that every music and movement activity has to be related to a letter of the week or some kind of theme. The better you and your students know the movements to a familiar song or action rhyme, the more engaged your students will be.

Tip #4: Keep circle time fun and engaging by adding movement into the mix of your experience. Focus on developing your own rich library of music and movement songs or action rhymes that you can pull out and use anytime you need to get the children up and moving.

The books we choose to read to our students is an absolute critical part of our circle time experience. Spend time carefully reviewing the books you will share with your students. Always consider whether the books will be engaging, interesting, age appropriate, and a bridge to other types of learning in the classroom. Also read the books ahead of time so the stories can be effective in how we read aloud to our students.

Tip #5: Be selective and purposeful in the books you choose to read aloud to your students during circle time or story time. Make sure the books you choose are a right fit for the age of children you are reading to and will be a book your students will enjoy. Spend time getting to know each book before reading it – you should have a good grasp on each page of the book and what approach you will take to reading the book well before you sit down to read it with your students.

Look for something that the children can touch or feel or smell that takes the story from the page and puts it into the hands of the children. The goal is to give the children something that will help them connect with the story or remember the story; make it an experience.

Tip #6: Make the circle time story more meaningful by giving the children something they can touch and hold. Choose simple objects that will spark conversation and help the children draw connections between the story and real life.

Make it a visual experience, try to provide objects for students to touch, and try to create a visual experience so that they have something they can look at as we build on concepts or hold group discussions. To create a visual experience, pull from a variety of materials or tools like a large group graph, flannel board, magnetic board, big books, and charts on a wall. For every visual, you can also visualizing how my students can participate or interact with the visual rather than just look at it. Perhaps they will guide you through the process or perhaps the students will participate by adding something to the visual but in any case, the challenge is to make the visual more than just a poster on the wall but instead an engaging part of the circle time experience.

Tip #7: Keep preschoolers engaged in circle time by having different kinds of visuals that promote conversation and invite interaction.

Make it a Responsive Experience; No matter what agenda for circle time each day, you will need to remain responsive to the needs and interests of the students. Taking a responsive approach to leading circle time can be challenging but it is by being responsive that you can tell when it is time to move on, slow down, do more, do less, get up and move, or sit down and listen. Try to be aware of how often you are telling them to listen and wait versus how often I am reminding myself to be the one who needs to listen and wait. Try to balance what your own agenda actually is versus what the agenda should actually be, be flexible.

Tip #8: Be responsive to your students by being willing to modify your agenda to meet their needs and interests. 

We have a circle time routine that we pretty much follow which gives our students an order of the things we will do during circle time. However, within our routine – the books, materials, tools, games, and other experiences (as described above) change each day. An example of our typical morning circle time routine would be.

Hello Song
Calendar (Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow/ Seasons/ Date)
Discussion Time (Interactive conversation, try to involve everyone, encourage them to raise hand before speaking but to share vocally something)
Interchanging Sit-Down-Songs (with hand movements) & Vocabulary Flash Cards
Action Letters (phonics)
Number Review
Action Songs (transition to play area)
Story Time (along with any additional materials or tools for extending the book)


Tip #9: Having a circle time routine that the children can become familiar with helps the children to know what to expect and to be a more confident participant in the process. However, within any routine it is important to be responsive to the needs and interests of the children. If a routine is not working well, then it will be necessary to adapt, change, shorten, rearrange, or somehow modify the routine.

Above all else during circle time, try to be sensitive to the students’ needs to have their ideas respected, heard, understood, and acted upon. Finding a balance between what “I believe” is best for the whole group experience versus taking the time out to listen to one child tell you a rather lengthy story about going to the beach isn’t easy to do. But I have learned that my role in the preschool classroom is to build my students’ confidence to share their ideas, seek understanding, and build knowledge. You will soon learn that to play the teaching role successfully, you will have to remain sensitive to the needs of the students and stay aware of how your responses affect their little hearts and minds.

Tip #10:  Make sure that your approach to circle time and your handling of the children during circle time leads young children towards feeling confident in their knowledge and abilities.

Make it a successful experience. Ultimately, you will want circle time to be a successful experience for all students. It is for this reason that I use the word experience in connection with the word circle time. After years of teaching, I have learned that circle time is more engaging to young children if it is built around simple, brief, interesting, and engaging experiences that invite conversation and interaction rather than being nothing but a sit-still-and-listen experience.  There are times during circle time that I ask the children to give me their very best attention but this is balanced with me making my own effort to give them my very best attention in return.

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