Conversation Classes with Students

V. Arun


Conversation classes is a period normally held once a week in every class. It is called circle time, culture class etc. In this class the students and the class teacher and if possible other teachers teaching the class sit together, in a circle, either inside the class or under a tree and have the space for sharing. There is no fixed agenda, except to have conversation space. The topic of discussion can be brought up by anybody. Normally, once a topic is decided, the topic or theme is followed through the whole period.

The main intention of this class is to provide an open space for students to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement. Over time students are gently encouraged to be open and share freely. The students cultivate the ability to articulate their thinking. The sharing helps them connect with peers and relate to each other.

Some thoughts on the classes

The space provides an opportunity for the students to delve in to themselves and explore their own thinking and feelings. Instead of just moving on a superficial reaction it helps them analyse what they really feel/ think about an issue. The process of articulating their thoughts and feelings helps them reach clarity. As teachers, we would have noted that mostly students don’t really have conversations. Instead they engage in light hearted banter. While this is understandable, there is a clear void created from not having the space to share our deeper thoughts/feelings. For instance, where will a student who is going through an emotional turmoil find the space to share his/her feelings? As a teacher I have noted that the inner lives of students remain hidden even from their own peers because they have not found the space to engage. The troubled student also fears an insensitive response from peers. This further prevents them from being open. The conversation classes offer a space for such sharing. The space is cultivated carefully to be sensitive, trusting, inclusive and caring.

When some people share something of depth or emotional significance, the vulnerability or sensitivity often diffuses across to the rest of the participants giving momentum by taking one’s initiative, where a sense of responsibility is brought about (though in different extents) to others.

Some of the students lack the confidence or the ease to share or speak in a larger group, and the space can be used as a tool to help them voice their opinions and thoughts openly. Peers are often able to learn and benefit from each other as one may have clarity and perspective on a topic in discussion which others may not have thought about or seen in that perspective.

Though the conversations reap a wide array of benefits and opportunities it has been a challenge to hold the space in a manner that is both natural and directional in its making. A certain amount of anchoring is needed to maintain an unanimous understanding between all the participants and to not let the class meander too much yet at the same time a natural, free flowing atmosphere is needed to negate the possibility of a member being intimidated or feeling too conscious about the relevance of what they were about to share.

The teacher also evolves some norms for the conversation classes. One of the important norms is that no one is allowed to talk about what comes up within the class outside the class. This is very important as otherwise the sanctity of the space can get diluted and/or taken away.

These conversation classes in a way form the link between the external world that the students navigate and the internal world of one’s reactions and responses to the outer world. These conversation classes touch the core of this aspect of education and are a space where the students share and learn the many emotions of joy, sorrow, fear etc. In this learning and sharing one hopes that the students will grow into more intelligent and sensitive human beings with a holistic understanding of life.

The very act of sharing or not sharing in a conversation enables the participants to look at various inner walls that have been built. This reflective process over a time helps the participants to loosen and become more free and relaxed. It also enables them to grow in trust. The sharing of inner processes helps each participant to listen and learn about creative ways of handling emotions and also widens and broadens their understanding of inner processes.

Some of the direct benefits of these classes:

  1. Gaining clarity in thinking. Also engaging deeply in a topic or feeling.
  2. Healing. When hurt feelings are shared and are received with sensitivity, it helps the student to be healed.
  3. Growth in confidence. It helps cultivate the ability to articulate one self, to speak in a large group.
  4. Growth in trust. In order to share, we need to have trust in others. This is gradually built by sharing and watching others share.
  5. Build better relationships. This comes from gaining a better understanding of others through their sharing.
  6. Understanding oneself. By watching one’s feelings, thoughts and reactions we are able to understand ourselves better. As we get in touch with ourselves, we learn to be more reflective.

The topics of conversation classes get decided at the start of the class with participants suggesting topics and the group chooses one topic.

The topics covered over the last one and a half years:

  1. How much of our behaviour is influenced by what people think of us
  2. Who are we influenced by?
  3. What does it mean to give energy to things we do?
  4. What are some hurts we are carrying over time?
  5. Dynamics of romance and gossip
  6. Abuse
  7. Nature of relationships
  8. What does the year ahead hold for us?
  9. My dreams for the future.
  10. One change in behaviour wilfully/ consciously made
  11. Violation of respect
  12. My happiest moments
  13. What do teenagers do with their negative feelings
  14. What do we talk about
  15. Conversations in pairs
  16. One thing i am anxious about
  17. My blind spots
  18. Why do we try to be consistent?
  19. A judgement that i made wrongly and later realized
  20. Reflection of recent times
  21. parental control
  22. Boredom
  23. Things that excite us
  24. Difference between boys and girls
  25. Self-worth—what gives it to us and what takes it away?
  26. Romantic feelings
  27. Gender related issues/thoughts questions
  28. Rules – What are they there for? How do we perceive them?
  29. Hierarchy among peers – how does it come about
  30. Death
  31. Is it possible to have a platonic relationship?


I have been a teacher now for 20 years and have been holding these classes all the years. It began as culture classes in the Krishnamurti school in Chennai where I worked for 12 years. After moving to Tiruvannamalai and starting Marudam, these classes have taken different meanings and have evolved differently. In The last one and a half years particularly it has taken flight. I see it as the most important input I am giving the students during the whole week.

As educators we think it is important to teach science, maths, and language, but seem to assume that living life, intelligently, sensitively, will happen by itself. I feel this is a big assumption and a wrong one too. I feel as educators we need to understand the role of conversations with students. Over generations good teachers have always taken interest in individual students and have taken the time to engage and help them with their lives. These conversation classes bring it into the structure of the school. Of course, the teacher has to be genuinely interested in the lives of the students. If these classes are held mechanically it will simply not work.

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