Council Plans

Give it a try … plans to use and make your own.

Introduction

These council plans reflect the wisdom and experience of countless facilitators over several decades of council in schools. Many voices have contributed, often adapting and building on ideas that worked before. Now it’s your turn to adapt and evolve these suggestions in ways that fit your style and circle. Please let us know how it goes.

Council Plan of the Month: Fortune-Telling Game and Council
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Fortune-Telling Game and Council

Grades 7-12 (can be modified for elementary grades)

Summary

This council uses a visualization exercise and a fortune-telling game to foster self-reflection and intention-setting in connection with the start of the new year, while building community within the circle.

Objectives

  • To foster self-discovery, personal responsibility, and connection.
  • To help students identify existing character strengths, as well as areas for growth.
  • To mark the new year with a fun game and intention-setting.

Materials

  • Hershey’s Kisses and circular stickers that fit on bottom – one for each participant, including the facilitator. The Kisses and labels need to be prepared n advance. On each label write a one word positive character quality, such as: love, trust, perseverance, empathy, courage, understanding, strength, friendship, patience, compassion, balance, boldness, gentleness, discipline, will, clarity, vitality, leadership, playfulness, self-expression, humor, adventure, sweetness, joy, passion, humility, hope… Stick a label on the bottom of each Kiss and put all of the Kisses in a special container to present for the council.

Open council

Set context for council

  • Tell the circle: At the start of a new year, people in cultures around the world use rituals to look at the year ahead and to state intentions for how they want to grow in the coming year. Today we are going to play a fortune-telling game to envision our personal growth in the year ahead and to set intentions for ourselves.

Breath and Visualization

  • Tell the circle: Before we play the game, let’s become aware of our breath and clear our minds. To make it easier to focus on your breath, close your eyes, take a deep slow deep breath in…and as you let it out let your mind become clear and still. Do that again, another deep inhalation…and as you exhale your breath let it cleanse your mind. One more time, a deep breath in…and exhale all the air out of your lungs along with all the thoughts and ideas that might be in your mind. Now, with a clear mind, allow yourself to consider what personal quality of character you might need at this time to make your life work better for you. It might be a quality you already have and want more of…or it might be something you feel you haven’t developed yet and want to bring in. Take a minute and just see what pops into your mind.

Fortune-Telling Game and Council

  • After allowing about a minute for participants to see what qualities of character come to mind, say: Now open your eyes. Stay in silence. I’m going to pass this box [or basket or whatever it is that holds the Hershey’s Kisses] around the circle. When it comes to you, close your eyes, reach inside, and take out one of the Hershey’s Kisses. On the bottom of each Kiss is written a one-word quality of character. The word on your Kiss is your gift – a quality for you. When the box [or whatever it is] has gotten all the way around the circle and everyone has gotten a Kiss [this includes the facilitator], we will go around and share what we got. Do not open the Kiss or eat it until everyone has spoken.
  • Send the box around the circle. After everyone has a Kiss, do a round of everyone sharing the word on the bottom of their Kiss. In addition to reading the word, everyone is encouraged to comment on the word – how does it relate to the quality of character they had in mind when they closed their eyes and thought about what they need to make their life work better. Does the word on their Kiss suit them? Is it something they need? Do they have it already? Or do they have too much of it? After gong around the circle, if time allows, invite any PS’s – anything someone wants to add to what they previously shared.
  • After the sharing is complete, have everyone unwrap and eat their Kisses and imagine, as the chocolate melts in their mouth, that they are taking this quality into themselves. (If someone gets a quality they really don’t want – which rarely occurs – you might suggest that they could swap it with someone who wants that quality. If anyone is absent, you can set aside a Kiss for them.)
  • If time allows, do a witness round for comments on what participants noticed within themselves as they ate their Kiss.

Close Council

We encourage you to use, enjoy, and amend this plan in any ways that feel natural to you!

Contributed by Shelly Kessler

Check-In Councils
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Check-In Councils
Grades 6–12

 

Summary
A “check-in” is an important and frequently used type of council that gives students an opportunity to pause, “check in” with themselves and the group, and express what they are feeling or experiencing in the present moment or recent past. It offers teachers and students a quick way to connect to the realities and priorities of their lives, and can help settle the group so members are more able to listen deeply to one another.

A check-in can be done as a “stand-alone” council any time and can be completed in 5 to 10 minutes. A check-in can also be used as a lead-in to a full story round based either on a pre-determined prompt or a prompt the facilitator creates in the moment by listening for “hot” or “common” topics that arise in the check-in (this is often referred to as the facilitator “reading the field”) and offer an opportunity for deeper exploration.

Note: At the beginning stages of council practice, the facilitator should be the first to check in so as to model, and then invite students to go around the circle. Some of these may take a little practice! All of them can be repeated and used as often as desired. Have fun. Check-ins can be done with or without a talking piece. Even though check-in’s are brief, the talking piece is a concrete reminder about listening and speaking from the heart.

Objectives
• Bring students into the present by giving them an opportunity to share current feelings and experiences
• Validate students’ feelings and enhance self-esteem by being listened to about what matters personally to them
• Help the teacher identify and assess issues that may be current for students and that require further attention in or out of class

There are many ways of checking in. The following are three examples:

1. Weather Report

Ask students to respond briefly. “How are you doing today? What’s your weather report at this moment…right now?”

If this is the first time, you could begin by asking students to name different types of weather they’ve heard on the news. For example:
• Sunny skies, 85 degrees
• Scattered clouds with a chance of rain
• Overcast with temperature falling
• Tornado warning
• Clear skies with temperatures reaching 100 or more
• Giant hailstorm
• Hurricane

This is also a fun way to teach weather conditions to students. Use visuals!

2. Roses and Thorns (or High-Low or Celebration-Challenge)

A rose is a beautiful flower with a heavenly scent…and every rose bush is covered in mean and nasty thorns. Let’s take a few minutes to share one rose and one thorn from the past week (or past 24 hours or weekend or school break).

When starting a check-in, explain that we are asking for brief reports. You might suggest they offer one or two sentences for each one. It is important for students to understand this is not intended to be a recap of the week with lots of details, rather an invitation to reflect and offer a thoughtful response. Explain and then model that we’re inviting responses that reflect a feeling, an important event, something exciting/boring, easy/hard, things that are going well or not going well. For example: “My rose was seeing my new puppy actually return the ball to me for the first timer after I tossed it to her. My thorn was that my neighbor whose porch light shines into my bedroom window put in an even brighter bulb.”

3. Gesture Check-In

• Pose or Movement
Strike a pose or make a movement that reflects how you’re feeling at the moment. For example, a yawn with the stretch of the arms.

• Pose or Movement with Sound
Strike a pose or make a movement and add a sound that reflects how you’re feeling at this moment. For example a shout with leap into the air.

• Pose or Movement and Mirroring (Sound or no Sound)
Strike a pose or make a movement and add a sound if you wish that reflects how you’re feeling at this moment. Watch carefully because we are going to mirror back what we see (and hear).

When teaching mirroring to students, instruct them to watch (and listen) carefully to exactly how the person is making their gesture (and sound). After the gesture is complete, all students in the circle will, at the same time, repeat the gesture (and sound) as closely as possible.

 

We encourage you to feel free to amend this lesson in any ways that feel more natural to you!
These are council classics contributed by many facilitators; edited by Chris Elder.

Someone You Admire
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A Council on Someone You Admire
Grades 6–12

 

Summary
This council helps develop many themes including family, relationships, transitions, character development, intention-setting, making a difference, dealing with change.

Objectives
• Identify admirable qualities
• Recognize and honor acts of kindness
• Identify and appreciate a special person in each student’s life

Materials
• The Grandfather by Gary Soto from A Summer Life

Set context for a council on someone you admire
Today we are going to think about important relationships and the people who have helped shape us along our journeys. These people may have influenced us, supported us, or inspired us by their work or their way of being.

Read
The Grandfather by Gary Soto. Let’s take a few moments and in popcorn style name some of the qualities of the grandfather that affected Soto.

Note: We suggest this short story because even older students can appreciate a read-aloud, and reading together sets a tone of intimacy and sharing. Written stories can help students of all ages recognize their own stories and develop their appreciation of literature. Share texts either immediately before the council or in advance. These suggestions apply to any piece of text you choose to set context for your council.

Popcorn
Think about a person in your own life – a family member, teacher, friend, coach – who you admire. Who are a few examples of people we admire?
Note: Optional. Don’t let this go on so long that it limits your council time.

Open Council

Dedication

Speed Round
Let’s begin by offering into the circle the name of a person in your family who you admire, or who has had a positive impact on you. If you would rather, you may choose someone outside your family. This person could be alive right now, or have already passed on. When the talking piece comes, say the name of the person in his or her own language.

Note: Often students will say “my mother” or “my grandfather,” omitting the name. It’s very nice to hear names – in many languages. To help them remember to do this, you start: “My mother, Rene.” When students forget, it’s OK!

The talking piece can go around two or three times if it seems appropriate.

Speed Round
Tell us briefly what it is about this person that you admire. For example, it might be a great sense of humor when things are tough, patience, hard work, kindness.

Note: If you think this may be a challenge for your students, make sure to model with your own facilitating examples.

Story Round
• Now that we’ve heard the names of people we admire and the qualities in them that we admire, tell a story, something the person said or did, that shows how that person demonstrates one of those qualities.
• Share a story about a time you were with this person. In telling the story please take us there. Who is this person? Where were you? How old were you? What happened? Any particular reason this memory comes to mind?
• Share a story about this person.

Additional Prompts
• If this person was sitting in the circle with you today, right across from you, at this particular point in your life what piece of advice might they offer you? What would they say to you?
• What question(s) would you like to ask this person?

Witness
Share something that stayed with you or something you’re taking away.

Close Council

 

We encourage you to amend this plan in any ways that feel natural to you!
Contributed by many council facilitators; edited by Chris Elder and Julia Wasson.

Noticing Journey
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A Noticing Journey Council
Grades 3–12

 

Summary
This is a fun council giving the opportunity to be a tourist in your own classroom and school. You will lead students through the campus, directing them to use their senses to note what they see, hear, smell, and touch along the way. The Noticing Journey is done in silence and is a form of listening.

Objectives
• Practice observation using all the senses
• Learn to trust one’s ability to perceive the world
• Develop receptivity to environments

Materials
• A bell or chime

Set context for a Noticing Journey
Tell students they are going to participate in a rather unique council today. They are going to become witnesses and observers of their environment. Explain the procedure, answer any questions, and invite them to join you in a silent “Noticing Walk” around the school.

Note: This is a “council classic” often used at trainings and workshops because it incorporates movement and gets students outside. If going outside is not possible, you can conduct a Classroom Noticing Journey first, using the same format but staying inside the room. This helps younger students learn the procedure and will help them pay attention to the details when they do venture outside. Touring the campus in this formal, silent line during times when others are in class and the grounds are quiet also provides a shift in perception. This can be fantastic during or after a light rain as well as on clear days.

Directions for Activity
Get agreement from each student to do this in silence. They will be following you in a single line wherever you lead them, walking behind the person in front of them. Before beginning each part of the journey, you will tell them which sense they are to focus on to observe whatever they can in the particular environment(s) they are in. They will begin when you ring the chime; this is the beginning of the council. When you walk, walk slowly, steadily, and silently. After some time, ring the chime to signal the end of that part of the walk. Gather in a standing circle. Ask: “What were some of the sounds you heard (or smelled, etc.)?” Pass the talking piece. Begin the next segment by telling them which sense they will now focus on, then ring the chime to begin the walk.

Continue this pattern through the senses, using the chime to mark each beginning and ending. After each segment, gather and pass the talking piece around the circle.

You might also ask them to become witness/observer of their own thinking, emotional, and physical processes along the way. You can prompt them to recall one thought, feeling, or body sensation they had along the way.

If you can, walk though a few classrooms, the school library or kitchen, around the playground, maybe sit in a circle by some trees. You want to leave time for a final council, so pace your Noticing Journey accordingly. End up back in your classroom, or a place outside where you can have a closing council.

Note: Get permission beforehand from colleagues for your class to take this (silent) listening walk through their classrooms. You will discover it is a magical experience to have your class walk through another teacher’s classroom and listen in or just watch students in the classroom work together

Open Council
Note: You have been in council the entire time. There is no need to re-open council or dedicate.

Speed Rounds
• What was that like for you?
• How was this a council? (Who were the storytellers?)
• What stood out for you the most?
• What was challenging, what was easy for you?
• What did you learn?

Witness
• What do you remember that someone else heard, saw, smelled, touched…on this Noticing Journey?
• Share something that stayed with you or something you’re taking away.

Close Council

 

We encourage you to amend this plan in any ways that feel natural to you.
Contributed by many facilitators including Joe Provisor, Jane Raphael, and Julia Wasson; edited by Chris Elder.

Listening
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A Council on Listening
Grades 3–12

 

Summary
Learning how to really listen to one another – from the heart – is one of the greatest opportunities of council practice. This activity helps students feel what it’s like when we don’t listen from the heart and compare that to the feeling when we do. This council is especially useful in the beginning stages of a program.

Set context for a council on listening
Open, honest communication is the foundation of council. We sit together and practice the intentions of listening and speaking from the heart – a lifelong practice! Learning to listen well serves us in every relationship, in every aspect of our lives: in school, in college, community, and career – even in nature. Before we go into council, we’re going to do an exercise on listening.

Directions for Activity
Have students pair off and decide who is A and who is B. After explaining the exercise, you may want to model it with your co-facilitator or one of the students. Choose a topic (such as high or low point of the week, what they’re looking forward to this weekend, etc.). Partner A speaks to the topic first while partner B listens – but not really. Tell partner B to concentrate on thinking about something else while partner A is speaking. While they are still sitting in pairs, ask for responses: What did you notice about yourself when you were talking? What did you notice about yourself when you were the listener? What did you notice about your partner? Have them switch: partner B talks, partner A thinks about something else.
Then have them actively listen: Change the discussion topic and have partner A talk, and partner B listen as attentively as possible. After partner A talks for about one minute, partner B reflects back the gist of what A said. Then switch roles. Again, ask for a few responses on the exercise, and then re-form a circle and go into council.

Open Council

Dedication

Story Round
• Tell a story about a time when you were really listened to or a time when you
weren’t.
• Tell a story about a time when you really listened to someone or a time when you
wish you had.
• Tell a story about your favorite person to talk to. Why?
• Tell a story about your favorite person to listen to. Why?

Witness
Say something that stayed with you from the activity and/or the council, or something you are taking away.

Close Council
Tell students you want them to close their eyes for a count of three and in silence actively listen to the sounds around them. On three, they will open their eyes and follow you in a collective, simultaneous finger snap or hand clap. You count one, two, three and lead the clap or snap.

 

We encourage you to amend this plan in any ways that feel natural to you.
Contributed by Lise Ransdell and Monica Chinlund; edited by Chris Elder.

Effort
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A Council on Effort
Grades K–8

 

Summary
Building a supportive, hardworking classroom requires that students acknowledge the individual efforts of themselves and their peers. This council can be used more than once during the year.

Objectives
• Build community through recognizing and acknowledging the efforts of self and peers.
• Develop empathy by naming and hearing each other’s challenges.
• Recognize when we do and do not have control of situations and outcomes.
• Recognize effort over outcome.

Materials
Ralph Tells A Story, by Abby Hanlon

Set context for a council on effort and choice
School has been in session for a few months now, and there are all the usual challenges up—with studies, with teachers, with friends, with family. Some are fun, some aren’t so fun… some are easy, some are really hard. Take being in school all day! I don’t have to tell you that school requires a lot of effort: effort to stay focused and learn, to figure out what’s important, to get along with people, and to keep an open mind. Then after school there are more demands: homework, social media, sisters and brothers, helping out at home. It seems that every minute brings choices about where and how we are going to invest our efforts. And sometimes we give our best effort and it doesn’t work out! And sometimes we don’t give any effort at all.

Read
Ralph Tells A Story, by Abby Hanlon. I want to read you a book I truly like. In this story, Ralph is really suffering in class, and I especially connected with him. I wonder if anybody else will. Before I start, let me ask, “Has anyone ever suffered from a writing assignment?”

Open Council

Dedication

Speed Round
We just heard the story of Ralph trying really hard. Let’s name some of the things that require effort from us. These can be small or big efforts. Maybe it’s working harder in a challenging class, perhaps it’s being more patient with your sister or brother, or maybe it’s about chores at home. Let’s hear them…

Story Round
Tell a story about a time you tried really hard, or a time when you didn’t, and how it went.

Witness (Grades 3–8)
Share something that stuck with you or something you’re taking away.

Witness (K–2)
Say something you heard that stayed with you.

Intention Setting (if time)
I’d like to invite each one of us to set an intention for the week, and if you want, you can ask the circle for something that would support you in reaching it. For example, “This week I intend to spend less time on my phone, and if you see me on my phone please remind me of my intention. Or, if you catch me off my phone, you could say, ‘You’re not on your phone … good job!’” And if we’d like, we could all do a shout out together after we hear the intention stated out loud. This will give it some good energy. We could, for example, shout, “You can do it!” or “Right on!” Will you do this?

Close
Pass a “High Five” around the circle

Additional prompts (perhaps for a different council)
What stuck with you from the story? Why did that stick with you? Tell the story.

 

We encourage you to amend this plan in any ways that feel natural to you!
Contributed by Chris Elder and Julia Wasson.

Cruelty - Kindness
Download PDF here

 

A Council on Cruelty and Kindness
Grades K–12

 

Summary
This council helps us recognize that we all have the capacity for both cruelty and kindness. Values and virtues are best discovered through storytelling and hearing the stories of others, rather than by “teaching” values like kindness or respect. As Joe Provisor says, “Council is the process whereby values are formed.”

Note: This council is offered when trust has grown in the circle, when issues arise in your community, or when the themes are relevant to current events or curriculum. It is not recommended for beginning programs where the topic may feel unsafe. Nor is this intended as a lesson on behavior, but rather as an opportunity to derive wisdom from events we have experienced.

Objectives
• To reflect on choices about how we treat others and ourselves
• To develop empathy, understanding, compassion, forgiveness

Materials
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (picture book)

Note: We suggest this picture book because even older students can appreciate a read-aloud, and reading together sets a tone of intimacy and sharing. Written stories can help students of many ages recognize their own stories and develop their appreciation of literature. Share texts either immediately before the council or in advance – inviting students to use the intervening time to consider what stories they themselves may have. These suggestions apply to any piece of text you may choose to help set context for your council. You could also use texts from your history or social studies curriculum.

Set context for a council on cruelty and kindness
Throughout our entire lives we will be dealing with the way we are treated and the way we treat others. Each of us is capable of a range of behavior, including both cruelty and kindness.

Read
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Ask students the following: (Ask for a show of hands after each question.)
• How many of you have ever had someone be mean to you, or seen someone being mean?
• How many of you have ever been mean to someone else?
• How many of you have had someone be kind to you, or have witnessed an act of kindness?
• How many of you have ever done something kind for someone else?

Open Council

Story Round One
Tell a story about a time when you were mean to someone, or someone was mean to you. Leave out names.

Witness Round One
What stayed with you from what you heard?

Story Round Two
Tell a story about a time when you were kind to someone, or someone was kind to you. Leave out names.

Witness Round Two
What stayed with you from what you heard (or what are you taking away)?

Note: If you wish, you might mention that we have a choice, and if we are going to build a happier, more peaceful school and world, we can choose to include rather than exclude, to treat others as we would wish to be treated, etc. Stay away from making this an explicit lesson on behavior. Usually the stories speak for themselves.

Intention Setting (Optional)
One thing I will do to create more kindness and inclusion at our school is…

Close Council

 

We encourage you to amend this plan in any ways that feel natural to you.
Contributed by Joe Provisor and Monica Chinlund; edited by Chris Elder and Julia Wasson.