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Inside/Outside Circles

This discussion technique gives students the opportunity to respond to questions and/or discuss information with a variety of peers in a structured manner. Students form two concentric circles and exchange information with a partner until the teacher signals the outer circle to move in one direction, giving each student a new peer to talk to.

How to use

1. Split the Class

Decide which half of the students will form the inside circle and which half will form the outside circle.

2. Question

Put a question or statement on the board.  Give students at least ten seconds to think of an answer on their own.

3. Share

Ask students in the inside circle to share their response with the classmate facing them in the outside circle. When they have done this, ask them to say "pass,” at which point their partners in the outside circle will share their responses.

4. Rotate

On your signal, have the outside circle move one step to the left or right and discuss the same question with the new partner. Option: post a new question or give the new partners a different discussion point.

When to use

Use Inside/Outside Circle at any point in the lesson to structure meaningful conversation:

  • Before introducing new material to begin a discussion or highlight key issues in the presentation to come
  • During a lesson to process important concepts before applying them in group or independent work
  • After a reading to discuss key concepts
  • Before an assessment to review information
  • As a way to practice solving problems with assistance from a partner


Desk Circle

Instead of having the students form circles, have partners move desks to face one another and form a long row. When it is time to change partners, students stand up and move one desk to their left or right. Students at the end of the row move to the desk they were facing.

Secret Inside/Outside Circle

Students in one of the circles can be given information that students in the other circle are supposed to find out through questioning techniques.

Circumlocution Circle

To learn new vocabulary, students are given a word that they have to describe to their circle partners. Using the descriptions, the partner must guess the word that is being described.

Timed Circles

To add interest and variety, vary the amount of time with each partner.  For example, students may spend one minute with Partner 1, 3 minutes with Partner 2 and 2 minutes with Partner 3

Conga Line

Conga Line is very similar to Desk Circle exceept that instead of sitting in desks facing each other in two rows, students are standing in two rows.  When it is time to change partners students in each line dance left or right and students at the end of the row dance to the opposite end of their row.

Inside Outside Topics/ Getting to Know You

Students are assigned a particular topic to share about rather than being asked to respond to a question.  For example, "describe how your family celebrates ____ holiday".

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