Concentric Circle Discussions and Jigsawing a Reading

Charri Trembley is a CRISS District Trainer from Kaneland CUSD#302 in Illinois and recently submitted a lesson that gave me a nice little "A-ha!" moment.

She was having her students jigsaw a reading - something many of us have tried, I'm sure - and instead of having them read, mix up groups, share with their groups, etc., she simply used a Concentric Circle discussion. In this strategy, you divide the class into two groups and have them form an inner circle and outer circle that face each other, paired up*.

What is Jigsaw Reading?

Students in a group are assigned different readings or topics. They become experts and then teach their peers.

For more information, follow the links below (working as of April 12, 2016):
The teacher has the pairs share their ideas/information with each other and then the teacher has one of the circles rotate so that folks now meet a new partner. (Funny story, I once did this in a workshop and had my outer circle rotate to the left two spots and the inner circle rotate to their right two spots. That doesn't work. Just choose one direction - left or right - and have each group move that way.)

Often, Concentric Circles involve having the students do some pre-writing. For example, I observed National Trainer Mimi Basden of Kalispell School District 5 in MT lead this strategy after having the teachers in her workshop write about how they've recently used something they learned from the CRISS workshop in their own classrooms. Or in Charri's example, students wrote summaries of their reading. Typically, after the partners have shared their ideas with each other, they then exchange the cards/writing and now are responsible for teaching that information to the next folks they are paired with.

Now, I want to be very clear: It is not necessary to exchange writing. Mimi had her participants keep their writing but encouraged them to share the other ideas they had heard from previous partners. It is also not necessary to even do any writing. Imagine a scenario like Mimi's where your students are drawing on experience, feelings, and opinions and your purpose for the activity is to generate discussion, not to have them walk away with concrete facts. You could give a slightly different prompt every time the students changed partners: What has your strength been with implementing the Framework for Learning - Prepare, Engage and Transform, or Reflect? Partners discuss. People move. What is something that surprised you in the classroom recently? Partners find inspiration in what they just shared and what they heard. Partners discuss. Partners move. And so on. I bet this would be interesting when discussing the early parts of a novel. Or gut reactions to a poem. Or maybe in a science class where class data is posted on a board and prompts can help lead students through analysis.

Back to Charri (sorry!). She had students write summaries of the section of the book they read on index cards and then they exchanged the cards before changing partners. With only four different readings - I'll call them A, B, C, and D - the students were equally distributed to inner and outer circles (you need students from each reading in each circle). Then they taught each other! No matter the mix, there were so many opportunities to teach and learn. Imagine an A pairs with an A at the start. Now they both get a chance to validate what they learned before exchanging cards. Heck, maybe one of them even added notes to their card. Now we see an A paired with B. They teach each other, exchange cards. Now the former A who just learned B is paired with an original B. A gets to validate what s/he learned with another original B! Maybe an original C is trying to teach A content to an original D who is also trying to teach A. Now they get to struggle together. At the end, the teacher could easily ask students to raise their hands if they never were able to interact with a specific part of the reading and then have those folks pair up appropriately before sitting down. (Or perhaps students go back to small table groups. Chances are someone in that group learned about the missing reading so now the small groups can develop a summary or complete an organizer together to synthesize the information, thus providing one last chance to teach and learn each reading to each student.) It's really quite a brilliant way to work jigsawing. I LOVE IT.

Between Mimi and Charri, I'm definitely incorporating Concentric Circle discussions into my workshops from now on. You should give them a shot in your classroom and let me know how they go on Twitter @ProjectCRISS or shoote me an email and I'll add your comments here (

* - But what do you do if you have an odd number? Of course you can create a traveling pair but you can also create one specific spot in the room where if you land in those spots, you're in a group of three. Or make one spot partner up with a piece of chart paper and the person there just writes ideas or questions. Or you could be their partner. Or the computer could be a partner. Or they could write a tweet or read a short paragrph that adds a different dimension to their knowledge. THERE ARE SO MANY IDEAS MY HEAD IS SPINNING.