Becoming a Facilitator Facilitating Talking Circles

In order to ensure that the end of the Blanket exercise workshop is affirming and uplifting, and that people leave in a good way, it is highly recommended that you hold an in-depth discussion or talking circle after the exercise to allow participants to share their feelings and ask questions in a respectful way. Please note that this process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a full hour, so plan your time accordingly.

Note: If an Elder is present, they may be able to lead the talking circle. Please consult with them in advance to ensure they are prepared to take on this role.

What Are Talking Circles?

Talking or discussion circles are an approach to learning that encourages dialogue, respect and social discourse. The nuance of subtle energy created from using this respectful approach to talking with others provides a sense of communion and interconnectedness. When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning becomes a rich source of information, identity and interaction. Talking Circles originated with First Nations leaders – the process was used to ensure that all leaders in the tribal council were heard, and that those who were speaking were not interrupted. Usually the Chief would initiate the conversation, with other members responding and sharing their perceptions and opinions of the topic under discussion.

Various objects are used by First Nations peoples to facilitate the talking circle. Some use a talking stick, others a talking feather, while still others use a peace pipe, a sacred shell, a wampum belt, or other objects such as stones. The reason for using the object is that whoever is holding it in their hand has the right to speak. The circle itself is considered sacred. First Nations peoples observed that the circle is a dominant symbol in nature and has come to represent wholeness, completion, and the cycles of life (including the cycle of human communication). As well, many talking circles were traditionally “opened” with a prayer and smudging. A sacred space was facilitated by these reverent acts and observances.

General Process:

  • It is respectful to introduce oneself.
  • It is important that the circle of people listens respectfully to the person speaking.
  • The person who is speaking should ‘speak from the heart’.
  • Shared communications should be kept in confidence, especially if personal.

In its simplest form, a Talking Circle:


Is done in a complete circle

Only the person holding the ‘talking stick’ talks, while the rest listen

  • The stick is usually passed around in a clockwise direction
  • A person talks until they are finished
  • The talking circle is complete when everyone has had a chance to speak
  • A person may pass the ‘talking stick’ without speaking, if they so wish
  • If desired, the stick may be passed around again. This may be beneficial, as it allows more time for people to process the experience
  • What is said in the circle stays in the circle
  • The circle is extremely respectful of everyone as individuals and what they have to say

Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont says that “the circle can handle all emotions”.  It is therefore ‎important to prepare for a talking circle in advance, and to let participants know that it is all right to express doubt or other emotions in the circle, but it must be done in a respectful way.

Adapted from the First Nations Pedagogy Online resource. For more information.