by Dana Januszka and Kristen Vincent
A productive, purposeful hum fills Ms. Vincent's fourth grade classroom as the school day draws to a close and students complete their end-of-day jobs. Ten minutes before dismissal, when everyone is packed up, Ms. Vincent signals that it's time for closing circle, and the class moves to the meeting area.
When all are seated in the circle, Ms. Vincent raises her hand, the class’s agreed-upon signal for attention. The students stop their conversations and listen as Ms. Vincent asks, “What’s one way you helped others today?” After a pause for thinking time, she invites the children to share their responses. Next, the students stand for a group celebration, creating a “Circle of Hands.” Then they sit down again for an activity called “1, 2, 3, Pop,” which determines the order in which they line up at the door for dismissal. When the last student joins the line, the class is ready to make a calm, pleasant transition to after-school life.
The end of the school day can often pose some unique challenges. Teachers can feel rushed to get students out the door in time for dismissal. Students often have low energy, and some feel anxious about the afternoon’s activities or their evening at home. Some are even hungry! It can be difficult to end the day on a positive note with so much going on.
The closing circle routine is a manageable way to peacefully wrap up the day and send students off feeling a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Like Morning Meeting at the beginning of the day, closing circle brings a sense of calm, safety, and community to students and teachers. The routine also helps students practice reflecting on what’s meaningful to them about their schoolwork, their classmates, and themselves. After a five- to ten-minute closing circle, students leave school feeling excited about their accomplishments and looking forward to the next day’s possibilities.
Six Tips for Great Closing Circles
We’ve found the following guidelines crucial to success in our closing circles. Keep them in mind if you try this routine:
1. Set aside ten minutes.
You don’t need a lot of time to have an effective closing circle—ten minutes should do it—but you do need to protect that time from intrusions. All the day’s other activities should be finished ten minutes before dismissal. If you allow things to eat into closing circle time, the routine will feel rushed rather than calm and reflective. (To learn about how to find time for closing circles, see “Finding Time before Dismissal.”)
2. Everyone takes part.
Every student and adult in the room should participate in closing circle. This is not a time for children to finish assignments or to complete end-of-day jobs. For a sense of community, every class member needs to be part of closing circle.
3. Come with empty hands.
Children usually pay better attention if their hands are empty and their belongings out of sight. If students need to have backpacks or papers nearby, we tell them to put these things behind them, outside the circle.
4. Teach closing circle routines.
As with any classroom procedure, the expectations and routines of closing circle need to be carefully taught, modeled, and practiced with students. Interactive Modeling is an excellent technique for doing this. Simple and direct, Interactive Modeling allows students to see, hear, and experience exactly how to complete tasks that are key to a successful closing circle, such as finishing class jobs and packing up before closing circle begins, responding to the signal, forming a circle, sharing and listening to reflections, playing games, and lining up.
Even if you’ve taught these skills for Morning Meeting and other activities, it will be helpful to reteach or review them for use in closing circle.
5. Choose activities that foster reflection and celebration.
We use a three-part structure for our closing circles: a reflection, a celebration, and a closing. These components build on each other:
Reflection—The teacher cues students to reflect on their learning for the day or to set goals for the next day. This can be as simple as going around the circle to answer an open-ended question, such as “What’s one thing you want to work on tomorrow?” It might also be an activity that involves reflective thinking. (For an example of such an activity, see "Fostering Reflective Thinking.")
Celebration—The whole group does a quick, lively song, chant, or cheer celebrating the community’s effort and accomplishments that day. You can celebrate hard work and learning, living up to class rules, working to solve problems together—there are many possibilities. (See an article on fun, quick celebrations for some ideas.)
Closing—The group does a brief activity that ends the gathering and makes the transition to dismissal. This activity could be a song sung while putting on winter coats, hats, and boots or a fun way to send students to line up a few at a time.
6. Focus on positives.
Closing circle should help students and teachers end the school day on a positive note. Focus on naming accomplishments and setting goals; don’t use this time to discuss what didn’t go well. You can help set a positive tone for closing circle with a reflective question, such as “How did we follow our rules today?” or “What’s one thing you enjoyed learning about today?” On a particularly challenging day, a closing circle that focuses on learning from mistakes or on naming changes each person plans to make may help everyone end the day feeling better. Just keep in mind that your choices for closing circle activities should leave students feeling calm and positive, with renewed energy and enthusiasm for school.
Leaving School Feeling Good
Closing circle is an effective strategy for bringing closure to the school day in a fun and meaningful way. By ending the day on a refreshing, reflective note, closing circle reinforces the sense of community and safety that teachers strive to develop. Students leave school feeling good about themselves, each other, and their work and looking forward to the next school day.
Dana Januszka and Kristen Vincent are Responsive Classroom consulting teachers. Dana has been teaching kindergarten and K–5 Enrichment Support for ten years in South Brunswick, NJ. Kristen has eight years’ experience teaching fourth grade in Needham, MA.
Get ideas for your closing circles: Closing Circles: 50 Activities for Ending the Day in a Positive Way.