Stone Dragon Press
  speculative fiction — science fiction — horror — fantasy
Stone Dragon PressTable of ContentsBibliographyBackForward
IntroductionHow Do I Use It?Study Circle

Study Circle

What Is a Study Circle?

Study circles are:
  • voluntary
  • informal
  • egalitarian
  • highly participatory
  • cooperative
  • owned by the participants
An organizer sets up the study circle, a moderator guides the discussion, and the participants cooperate to make it work. It allows the group to capitalize on the experience of all its members. The goal is to deepen the understanding and judgment of the participants.

Organizer's Role

The study circle organizer creates the study circle. Keep in mind that there is no single model for organizing a study circle.

Reasons for resistance to participation
  • Unfamiliar name
  • Sounds too intellectual
  • Seen as "just talk"
  • Too much work
Setting up a study circle
  • Select topic
  • Choose moderator
  • Recruit participants
  • Set up meetings

  • Decide on:
    • dates
    • times
    • location / place to meet

    • Somewhere:
      • quiet
      • you can make a circle
      • neutral
      • comfortable for everyone
      • where you can make coffee
      • preferably free
  • Assemble & distribute study material
  • Prepare
  • Get feedback

Participants' Role

Participants must be willing to:
  • to make a commitment
  • "own" the study circle
  • to set goals and work toward them
  • to take responsibility for their own learning
To get the most from study circle experience
  • Make an effort to attend all meetings
  • Communicate your needs to moderator
  • Help keep the discussion on track
  • Listen carefully to others
  • Take your turn and pass it on
  • Help keep discussion on topic
  • Speak your mind freely
  • Don't monopolize discussion
  • Address your remarks to group rather than the moderator
  • Don't withdraw from discussion
  • Maintain an open mind
  • Use your critical faculties
  • Strive to understand the position of those who disagree with you
  • Engage in friendly disagreement
  • Remember, humor & good manners can help make your points

Moderator's Role

A good moderator is important to success of a study circle
  • Understand study circle concept
  • Know your role
  • Prepare carefully for each session
  • Know enough about topic to be able to ask sensible questions
  • Know enough about topic to raise points that may have been missed
  • Create an atmosphere of cooperation & trust
  • You are not a teacher
  • You do not have answers to all the questions
  • Help the group find their own answers
Tips for effective discussion leadership
  • Establish clear ground rules
    • Encourage everyone to participate
    • Allow everyone to be heard
    • Respect all views
    • Do not personalize disagreements
    • Maintain confidentiality
  • Identify goals
  • Assist group process
    • guide discussion according to ground rules
    • remain neutral
    • keep group focussed on content of discussion
    • monitor how well participants are communicating with each other
    • consider splitting up into smaller groups
    • delay intervention
    • don't talk after each comment or answer every question
    • allow participants to respond directly to each other
    • don't be afraid of silence
    • don't let anyone dominate
    • don't hesitate to ask group to help re-establish ground rules
  • Help group grapple with content
    • make sure they consider many different views
    • ask participants to think about concerns & values that underlie their beliefs
    • summarize discussion occasionally or encourage group members to do it
    • help participants to identify common ground
    • don't force consensus
    • use questions to help make discussion more productive
  • Reserve adequate time for closing the discussion
    • use last 20 minutes to wrap up
    • ask group for last comments and thoughts on subject
    • ask participants to share any new ideas or thoughts
    • remind group of readings and subject for next session
    • thank everyone for their contribution
    • acknowledge exploring controversial issues is hard work
    • provide time for evaluation of group process

Cue Sheet for Moderator

  • Introduce yourself
  • Explain that you are a moderator
  • Ask participants to introduce themselves
  • Ask participants to explain their interest in topic
Typical ground rules
  • Everyone is encouraged to participate
  • Allow everyone to be heard
  • All views will be respected
  • Disagreements will not be personalized
  • Confidentiality will be maintained
  • Ask for consent
  • Moderator role: keep discussion focussed and moving along
  • Participant role: share knowledge & ideas & to listen carefully to others
Identify goals
  • Make sure you all know why you are there
  • Ask for list of questions participants want answered
  • Lay out range of views
  • Ask participants what they see as main view on issue
  • Keep these lists and post them each meeting for reference
  • Review the study plan and adjust it to suit group
Personal connection to issue
  • Ask participants to talk about why issue is important to them
Discussion and deliberation
  • Have questions prepared to help you
  • Remain neutral
  • Guide discussion without controlling it
Summary and common ground
  • Ask participants to summarize discussion from time to time
  • Use their words and phrases, not your own
  • Look for common concerns in different approaches
  • Check your lists of goals & questions
  • @20 minutes left: let group know that discussion is near end
  • Ask each participant for a closing comment
  • Ask participants to summarize what has been covered
  • Establish direction for next session
  • Ask for comments on group process
  • Thank everyone for their participation
  • Acknowledge that it has been hard work

To help moderator guide discussion

Ask questions:
  • to start discussion.
  • that encourage expression of a diversity of views.
  • about values.
  • that promote deliberation.
  • that sum up.
  • that lead toward next steps.
Potential Problems
  • Certain participants don't say anything
  • An aggressive person dominates discussion
  • Discussion suddenly stops, or doesn't get off ground
  • Lack of focus, participants wander off topic
  • Assertions which you know to be false
  • Participants get hung up in a dispute about facts
  • Too large a group or too many people
  • Lack of interest, only a few people participating
  • Tension or open conflict in group
For more information:
Tulane—Organizing the Discussion
NALD—Study Circles

BackTop of PageForward
copyright 2002, Stone Dragon Press