Concentric Circles


This discussion strategy invites every student in the class to participate as an active listener and speaker. Students stand in two concentric circles facing one another and respond to a question in a paired discussion. When prompted by the teacher, one of the circles moves to the left or right so each student now faces a new partner, with whom they discuss a new question. This kinesthetic activity works well to debrief a reading or video and mixes up students so that they have the opportunity to share with a wide range of students. Furthermore, because they are speaking with just one other person at a time, reticent students might feel more comfortable sharing their ideas than they would in a group or class discussion.


  1. Select a Text and Select Questions
    Identify a reading or video that will serve as the catalyst for this activity. Select the questions that you will ask students to respond to in their discussion.
  2. Prepare Students for the Concentric Circles Discussion
    In preparation for the discussion, you might ask students to annotate or take notes while they are reading the text or watching the video so they can do some initial thinking. Alternatively, you might ask them to do a quick journal response to gather their thoughts before being asked to discuss the text.
  3. Facilitate the Concentric Circles Discussion
    • Ask students to stand in two concentric circles. The students inside and outside circles should face one another so that each student is standing across from a partner. Alternatively, if your classroom doesn’t allow for concentric circles, you might have the students stand in two lines facing one another. In this case, when students move to face their new partners, the student bumped off the end of the line moves to the space at the start of the line.
    • Tell the students that you will give them a question to discuss with their partner. Explain how much time they have for their discussions and let them know that both students need to share and listen. You might give them tips about asking follow-up questions if they finish their discussion before the allotted time is up.
    • If you are concerned that students might not get equal time to share and listen in each round, you might provide more structure. For example, you can instruct students that for the first minute, the outside circle will share their answers to the question while the inside circle listens actively. Then for the second minute, the inside circle shares while the outside circle listens. For the third minute, the pairs discuss their ideas, commenting on places of similarity and difference while offering evidence to support their thinking.
    • After the time is up, instruct students in one of the circles to move one or two spots to the right (or left) so they are now facing new partners...Then repeat the previous step with a new question.
    • Repeat this process until your students have answered the questions that you prepared. You might add a bonus round where students pose their own questions to discuss with their partners.

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