How to use Concentric Circles for Meaningful Discussions

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Students can find out new things about their peers and/or make friends quickly in a safe environment through this “speed dating” protocol.

Have you ever tried speed dating?  I have not, but I hear that it can be quite an event.  It was created with the idea that it would save the individuals’ time and enable them to meet many other daters in one night.   Usually, finding the time to meet 6-7 people that might be potential dating material can consume days if not months.  For those with limited time, or short attention spans, the idea of speed dating can be right up their alley.  In addition, the idea of short dates is perfect for getting a quick introduction to someone and to, hopefully, leave you intrigued enough to want to know more about that person and to continue on the conversation.  Teachers can create similar opportunities to save time and to intrigue students with an engaging teaching strategy and discussion technique known as “Concentric Circles”.  This technique/strategy gives students the opportunity to respond to questions quickly and with various peers in a structured manner, much like speed dating.

What is it?

“Concentric Circles” is a discussion strategy that is a structured, quick paced activity and that allows participants to exchange information with a partner until a signal is given to move to a new partner.

Save time and intrigue students with an engaging teaching strategy and discussion technique known as “Concentric Circles

How to Use:

  1. Split the class/group into 2 groups. Determine which of the two groups will form the inside circle (A). The other will form the outside circle (B).
  2. Have the “A” circle group form a small circle in the room. Then have the “B” circle group form their circle around those in circle group “A”.  (Visual here)
  3. Provide the participants with a question to be answered. Give each participant time to consider their answer. (About 10 seconds)
  4. Ask the participants in the inner circle to share their answer with the person in the outer circle that is facing them. When they are finished, they should ask the person in front of them what their answer might be, at which point the outer circle partner will share their response. (I like to give about 2 minutes per person, per round.)
  5. On your signal (after about 4 minutes) have the inner or outer circle take one step to the left or right. This should place them in front of a new partner. They may either discuss the same question, a variation of the original question, or a completely new question.

When to Use:

  • Use the Concentric Circles at anytime to engage students in meaningful conversations about the topic at hand.
  • Before introducing a new topic or new material
  • During lessons to help students process important concepts before moving on to the next element or before moving into independent work
  • As an ice breaker in staff development or at the beginning of the year or term
  • Before a test in order to review material
  • After a shared reading, in order to discuss a variety of elements within the text
  • To engage students in sharing their methods for problem solving
  • To have students teach one piece of information or content to partners, making it less of a discussion strategy and more of a peer teaching strategy

Variations:

  • Instead of making circles, two lines can be made where participants face each other. When the signal is given to change partners, one line takes a step to the left or right and the person on the end without a new partner will walk down to the other end to meet with the single member there.
  • Have students move desks to face each other and form a small group (6 or more students work best). When it is time to change, students get up and move to the next desk in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
  • Students in one of the circles can be directed to find out information from the other person in the circle by using questioning strategies.
  • Students in one of the circles provide a vocabulary word and the peer in the other circle must define it, or a definition is given and the partner must provide the vocabulary word.
  • Pairs answer questions about themselves in a “getting to know you” circle.
  • If there are an uneven number of students, select one student to be the “host” and provide the others with the questions of each turn.

“Concentric Circles” is a discussion strategy that is a structured, quick paced activity and that allows participants to exchange information.

Once you teach your students this strategy, you can use it anytime.  I recommend teaching this early in the year; perhaps even on the first week of school for the purpose of getting to know each other.  Let your students “speed date” their peers.  Have them discuss questions such as, “What do you like to do during recess?  What is your favorite lunch?  Talk about your favorite thing to do when you’re not at school.  Who is someone that you look up to?  What clubs are you hoping to be a part of?  How do you like to be acknowledged for a job well done?” Etc.  Hopefully they will find out new things about their peers and/or make friends quickly in a safe environment.  Try it out.  Concentric Circles can be just the tool that you’ve been looking for.