Developing intercultural competence through story circles

Martine Prins
February 26, 2023
Martine Prins
February 26, 2023
Unesco. (2021). Building Resilience through the Development of Intercultural Competencies: Story Circles.

Story Circles’ is a practical tool for developing and practicing intercultural competence. Story Circles bring people together in small groups, where they are able to share more about themselves or an experience by telling their own story based on a prompt. There are at least two rounds of stories shared, the first is a “get acquainted” round, and the second is a more substantive round that addresses intercultural competence development. After the two rounds of personal sharing/storytelling, there is a round of reflection within the groups, to finish with a plenary discussion and reflection.

The ultimate goal of this exercise is to learn to listen for understanding (versus listening for response or judgment).

Target audience
It can be used with different groups of people in many settings around the world. Participants can be as young as 8 years old.

Story circles use little to no resources. Story circles can even be facilitated by those who don’t have a strong background in intercultural knowledge and theory.

Strict rules apply during the different rounds. Speaking time per person is restricted to 2 minutes in the first round to 3 minutes in the second. The purpose of time limits is to ensure equality of all participants and to make sure that each person in the group has the same amount of allotted time. When someone is speaking, the other members do not interrupt (by asking questions or making comments) until all stories are shared. Not interrupting is a way to demonstrate respect for the person sharing and forces the listeners to listen more closely to what is being shared. The process of a story circle is as follows:

  1. Have participants divide into smaller groups (3-7 persons); the groups should be as diverse as possible so that the members are able to share and learn from diverse perspectives. Participants are to remain in the same small groups for the entire experience.
  2. Begin with the first ‘get acquainted’ round, sharing the question to be answered. An example of a question is: “What is a favorite food you would eat growing up and how does that relate to your background?”
  3. Remember the rules, 2 minutes of speaking time per person, no interruption from others.
  4. Once the stories from the first round have been shared, groups can move into the personal stories for the second question. An example is: “What is a memorable cultural misunderstanding you have had, and what did you learn from this?”
  5. Each group member has now 3 minutes of speaking time.
  6. Once the stories from the second round have been shared, there is time for a flashback round: the group starts with the first person who shared a story, and the others go around the circle to tell that person in max 15 seconds the most memorable point of his/her story. Then the group moves to the second person who shared his/her story and the others do another round of flashbacks for that person, and so on. The purpose of the flashback is to demonstrate listening for understanding, demonstrate respect, and make connections.
  7. After the flashbacks are finished, the groups can begin the follow-up discussion and reflection based on specific debriefing questions, such as “What common themes did you hear from the stories?” Allow a minimum of 20 minutes for this.
  8. To finalize a plenary debriefing is held, using the same debriefing questions as described above.

The role of facilitators in Story Circles is to introduce the process, provide instructions on the process, to organize the participants into small groups, to be available if any questions, and to facilitate the debrief of the experience.

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