"Stories are powerful and deeply a part of who we are. When we center our stories, we open spaces for building trust, community, and shifting culture. As a leader, I have learned that creating and investing in relationships are integral to transforming the world we live in. Story Circles are profoundly important to the process." —Micknai Arefaine, MA Applied Anthropology, OSU alumnus

Thank you for your interest to utilize storytelling in your community. Story Circles is a storytelling  process that can be used for a stand alone event, as an icebreaker, or main activity for generating connectivity and dialogue between people. It can even be used socially around a kitchen table or Zoom room. Regardless of where or how you would like to use Story Circles, this toolkit shares information about how you can facilitate a Story Circle, the history behind the practice, and considerations for developing storytelling programs and projects.

This guide was created amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The contributors of this toolkit developed a Story Circles training in a remote format to support building relationships during physical distancing. We are grateful to the US Department of Arts & Culture (USDAC) for permissions to adapt the original toolkit for experiential learning use at Oregon State University (OSU).

Story Circles Toolkit Download

What is a Story Circle?

A Story Circle is a small group of individuals sitting in a circle, sharing stories—usually from their own experience or imagination—focusing on a common theme. As each person in turn shares a story, a richer and more complex story emerges.  By the end, people see both real differences and things their stories have in common. A Story Circle is a journey into its theme, with multiple dimensions, twists, and turns.

Story Circles are often understood as deriving from indigenous traditions. There are many variations. Theatermakers such as Roadside Theater and John O’Neal have been central in developing the practice for use in creating original performance and community telling and listening projects. Story Circles can become practical interventions for building shared power and moving to action after hearing themes from the stories and building relationships between individuals.

Each Story Circle is unique and can take on the energy of the group. They can support perspective taking, empathy, cultural humility, listening, courage, vulnerability and healing. Story Circles can be light or deep - depending upon the hopes, intentions, and outcomes of your group.


The Story Circles tool was brought to OSU through our participation in the People’s State of the Union, Dare to Imagine, and Imaginings campaigns (2015-2018) by Charlene Martinez who served in the role of Integrated Learning for Social Change, a program within Diversity & Cultural Engagement and as an USDAC Cultural Agent.

A collaborative effort of Student Experiences & Engagement at Oregon State University, an experiential learning organization of the Division of Student Affairs.

  • Charlene Martinez, Associate Director, Student Experiences & Engagement
  • Cindy Konrad, Assistant Director, Pride Center, Diversity & Cultural Engagement
  • Sarah García, Assistant Director, Centro Cultural César Chávez, Diversity & Cultural Engagement
  • Peter Wilkinson, Immersive Programs Coordinator, Community Engagement & Leadership
  • Rhonda Head, Office Specialist, Student Experiences & Engagement 
  • Cori Elam, Leadership Liaison, SOL: LGBTQ+ Multicultural Support Network
  • Isabella Arreita, Leadership Liaison, SOL: LGBTQ+ Multicultural Support Network
  • Artwork by: Ariana Knight, Creative Design Associate, Orange Media Network
  • Artwork direction by: Erin McIlraith, Marketing Coordinator, Student Experiences & Engagement