Inside-Outside Circles

Paper people cutouts in concentric circles (timsa, iStockphoto)

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This strategy helps students share ideas with peers in a structured fashion.

Why use it?

• To provide opportunity for classroom interaction and physical movement.
• To facilitate communication between students.
• To ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in discussions and sharing activities.

Tips for Success

• Before students begin to form circles, number students 1 or 2 or give each student a colored card, such as a red or black suit from a deck of cards, to indicate which circle they are in (e.g., those with number 1 form the outside circle, those with number 2 form the inside circle; those with red cards, those with Diamonds or Hearts, form the inside circle, etc.). If using a standard playing cards deck, ensure there are an equal number of red and black cards corresponding to the number of students in your class. Shuffle cards before distributing them.
• Form the inner circle first, with students facing outward. Create the outer circle by having the remaining students each face a student in the inner circle.
• Move only one circle at a time. Alternate the direction and number of steps the circles move. Alternate which circle responds first to the question or prompt.
• Establish a signal to stop discussion before you announce which circle is to move (.g., when students see you or another student raise a hand, they raise their hand and stop talking).
• It is recommended that you stand in the center of the concentric circles. Here you can more easily monitor discussions to ensure students are on task.
• If there is an odd number of students in your class, join one of the circles yourself to ensure each student has a partner.
• If space is limited, have students form two lines instead of circles. The person at one end of the line moves to the other end of the line.

How do I use it?

1. Using a method of choice, divide the class into two equal groups, assigning one group to form an inner circle, and the other to form an outer circle.
2. Form the inner circle first, with students facing outward.
3. Ask the question you want students to discuss. Provide at least 10 to 20 seconds for them to form a response.
4. Have students in the inner circle share first. When they are finished, their outer-circle partner shares. When all students have shared, move one of the circles.
5. Continue until the allocated time is up or all questions and prompts are addressed.

Variations

• Use this strategy to activate prior knowledge on a topic before beginning a topic.
• Instead of standing, have students sit in desks or chairs facing each other. Have students respond to the question or prompt as normal. When finished, have both rows of students move to the desk/chair to their right. The students at the end move around to the other end of the row.
• Have each student write a question and answer on a card. In the circle, each takes turns asking their question to their partner. When both have responded to their partner’s question, they can switch cards before they are directed to move.
• To introduce a new topic or concept, provide each student with a card with a short statement about the topic. In the circle, each student takes turns sharing their statement. They can discuss until it is time to move. Students may trade their cards or keep them.