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Story Circles are a tried and tested way of communicating face-to-face, discovering how people think and feel. Someone acts as host – the holder of the circle. The host might share round a picture, idea, or question to which everyone can respond in turn. It is not compulsory to contribute on any round - you can ‘pass’ - but it is vital that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute. The aim is that every voice will be heard. Sometimes this is expressed by passing round an object. This is a visible sign that everyone is respected and can ‘have their say’.
Sharing memories and experiences in this way allows for humour and honesty. It also prevents people interrupting each other, because although people have the chance to respond when the circle is complete, it is down to the host to encourage input and to gently move people on to the next contribution. Above all, Story Circle. help us bit by bit to get a shared sense of what is important. That then helps show how a creative project or community initiative might take shape.
We offer are some suggestions for Story Circles based on the first nine LifeLines. Each question to the group is an invitation, a suggestion or prompt to help open up experiences. Everyone will come up with more ideas that help get things underway. Sometimes an actual picture or an interesting object relating to a LifeLine might be used.
Practically, the group should not exceed 15 in number, and fewer can be better. People should be given up to 3 minutes, maybe four, on each prompt. After each round there can be an opportunity for more free flow discussion and response. The host should then send round the next prompt. Timing here is a matter of judgement: not allowing things to drag, but not cutting a good discussion short; nudging participants back to the subject without overriding something that an individual wants to say. The key is to keep things fresh by moving on without exhausting any one topic, or trying to impose an artificial conclusion, or your own summary of the discussion. The host is a guide and creative enabler, not the chairperson of a meeting.
Listening is as important as speaking: each person receives full attention while telling his or her story. A story in this context is not a performance: listen for the essence of what is being shared, rather than mentally critiquing the person’s delivery. Each participant has equal time to share a story.
Attention passes round the circle in either direction. Individuals can pass, and will be given the opportunity to tell a story at the end of the circle. If someone declines, that’s fine. Don’t insist. There are no questions, criticisms, cross-talk, or comments on any story while sharing is going on. People do not speak from notes, and are discouraged from preparing their own stories rather than giving others full attention. Spontaneity is important.
Stories may be recorded. If participants prefer that their names not be used if their stories are recorded, they should say so, and the scribe should note it.
1. Briefly introduce yourself and recap the guidelines and time allocations. Answer any questions about these guidelines.
2. Remind people of the generative theme. On the following page are some starter ideas for prompts – you will have your own and better ideas!
3. Remind people that stories can be about any experience, any situation. All stories have value. There is no right answer.
4. Explain that each person has a time limit (e.g. a few minutes). Let people finish their sentences when time’s up, but don’t let them eat too much into other people’s time. Make sure you have a clock!
5. If someone wants to pass on the first go-round, that’s fine. Come back at the end to give those who passed another opportunity, but don’t insist.
6. Tell the first story to set the tone and demonstrate the practice.
7. Thank each person at the end of his or her story, then call on the next person.
8. Allow a moment of silence between stories.
9. At the end, engage the group in reflecting on the stories. Were there common themes? Notable differences? What stood out for you, if anything? What touched you, if anything? What feelings and ideas were sparked? Ask people to raise their hands and call on them in turn.
10. End on time and thank everyone for their participation.