Alternatives to the Talking Piece at a Time of Coronavirus

Here are six suggestions for how to facilitate a circle without passing a talking piece from person to person. 

Circles are a mainstay of our work in schools. We encourage teachers to carefully observe each component of circle, including sitting in a circle, an opening, a closing, a center piece, and a talking piece. (See more about circles here.)  

But at this time of coronavirus, that last component, the talking piece, poses a challenge for us and the people we work with. Now is not a good time for us to pass an object from person to person around the circle.

Below, Morningside Center's senior program manager Daniel Coles offers some alternative strategies.

  • Bring in your own talking piece. “The need for an alternative talking piece is a great incentive for individuals to bring their own talking piece,” says Daniel. At the outset, invite participants, one after the other, to share why they chose the object. After that, they keep the object in front of them, picking it up when speaking and placing it down when they’ve finished. 
  • Use your own colored index card. Ask each participant to pick a colored index card. Invite them to write their name on it, with an illustration if they like. In each go-round, they can pick up their card when speaking and place it down when they’re done.
  • Create your own values card talking piece. Ask each participant to write down a value (a principle or quality) that is important to them when they come together with others. Values might include things like empathy, kindness, open-mindedness, honesty, respect, or fairness. Invite participants, one after the other, to share and explain their value, then place the card on the floor in front of them. In subsequent go-rounds, they can pick up their card when speaking and place it down when they’re done.
  • Create an imaginary orb. “Creating and endowing an imaginary object as the talking piece can bring out the inner child inside of us,” says Daniel. In a session with teachers, says Morningside trainer Marieke van Woerkom, “we decided on an imaginary orb that we imbued with the values of our work together. It became a great opening ceremony as we created a powerful imaginary talking piece that got heavier and heavier as it went around the circle. People got really into it.”  
  • Create a gesture. Work with the group to create a gesture that they want to use as a “talking piece,” such as putting a hand over their heart. When it’s a person’s turn to speak, they put their hand over their heart. When they are done, they lower their hand, and it’s the next person’s turn. 
  • Make it a teachable moment. Our staff developer Javier Diaz told us that he has simply suspended the use of talking pieces during restorative circles for now. But he uses the shift as a moment to reflect with participants on the need to “have and practice mutual regard.”