How to Run an Adapted Circle Time Group in your Classroom

by Amanda Bartel, MS OTR/L



As promised, I’d like to share exactly how I planned and ran Circle Time in a 12:1 classroom for kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade students with special needs.


Circle Time should be led by one adult seated in front of the students and anyone one-on-one aides who are seated in a semi circle.   Individual chairs are recommended rather than sitting on an open floor or carpet.  I have found that students with autism, ADHD, and other developmental delays benefit from having a clearly defined space so they know exactly where they are supposed to be sitting.  This also helps students keep their hands to themselves while working in close proximity to others.  For students with low tone, having a supportive chair helps to sustain their sitting endurance during the group activity.


I created identical binders for each student with interactive pages by laminating picture symbols and using Velcro so the students would be able to follow along with the help of their classroom staff.  I also made an enlarged visual schedule with a picture symbol for each Circle Time activity.  At the bottom of the schedule is a separate section labeled “All Done”.  At the conclusion of each activity, a student is invited up to remove the Velcro picture and transfer it into the “All Done” area.


I recorded songs for each Circle Time activity to further support a consistent structure, to provide a fun way to transition between activities, to prompt language use, and to provide physical organization through rhythm and simple movement.   My experience is that student are extremely motivated by music.  Music is processed in a different part of the brain than spoken language, and I have found that even some of my non-verbal students have begun to sing along with the songs.


Here is the structure that we used for our Circle Time:

  • “Circle Time Song” with the rules of Circle Time
  • Sitting in a chair
  • Quiet mouth
  • Listening ears
  • Have safe hands
  • Have a calm body
  • Attendance

Students moved name or picture cards from the Home Page to the School Page

  • Feelings
  • The Date
  • The Weather
  • Music/Songs


Overall, our adapted Circle Time has been a HUGE success.  It is one of the few times each day where the whole class is sitting together, attending to a single adult, and following a consistent routine.  We have individualized goals for each student and their participation in Circle.  Some students are correctly identifying the date and reading sentences that they complete to tell us how they feel today.  Others are working on finding their own picture or name when it is placed in a group of their classmates to indicate that they came to school during the attendance part of circle time.  Some are just working on staying with the group for more than 3 minutes.  All of our students have made significant progress since we started this Circle Time routine and we are so pleased with the skills the program has helped them build!


I would like to share a printable version of the binders we made, the large picture schedule to be used a the front of the group, and some of the recorded music that I made to be used for some of the Circle Time activities.  You are welcome to play the music while you are learning the songs, but I highly recommend that every adult involved sings along to model participation and language use for the students.  I use hand gestures, simple sign language, clapping, and stomping while singing each song.  Maybe someday I will create videos to share all the moves that I use, but for now, feel free to create your own interpretive movements to accompany the music.  I encourage you to make Circle Time your own and adapt the components, pages, and songs so they fit your unique classroom.  I hope these materials help you get a head start!