As more and more of my instruction has moved online, I find myself strategically planning for more hands-on activities that take place off the computer. My students come alive with the face-to-face collaboration and interaction.
One of my favorite “get up and move” active engagement strategies is doing inside-outside circles. I’ve compiled a list of 6 fun ways to use this activity in your English classroom.
How do inside-outside circles work?
- Split your class into two groups
- Have the inner circle face out towards the walls
- Have the outer circle face inward, and have each outer circle person find an inner circle partner
- Tell the outer circle that they will be rotating on your cue (the cue can be the phrase “rotate!” or another signal). You can also have the outer circle move naturally around when they finish each question pairing.
- The partners (inner and outer circle students who are facing each other) ask their questions
- The outer circle rotates until it gets back to the starting position
How can I use inside-outside circles in my English classroom?
This active engagement strategy is great for the secondary or elementary English classroom! I developed the list below with English in mind, but the ideas can be adapted for any subject.
1. Novel review
I love using inside-outside circles to review major characters and plot events after a few chapters of a novel.
For so many students, the character names, plot events, and setting details swim around in their minds during the first few chapters of a book, and this activity can really help them sort those details out, which will then help them dig deeper into the story.
To create this activity, you can download a copy of this free inside-outside circle template. Then, enter in the information in a question answer format (ex—Question: How is Nick related to Daisy? Answer: They are cousins.)
Try to make the questions/answers as “cut and dry” as possible to make sure the student doesn’t have to interpret an answer. The circle should move fairly quickly, and you don’t want the line to be held up because an answer isn’t clear.
2. Vocabulary study
If you have your students learn vocabulary lists, inside-outside circles can be a great way to review before the quiz or test! One student can state the definition, and the other student can name the word. You could even have a list of vocabulary words on the board to add another layer of support.
As a more difficult option, you could have one student read a sentence while the other has to use context clues to try to define the word. This would be less exact or precise, but some groups of students would thrive with this challenge.
Another difficult (but possible) alternative would be to ask students to provide synonyms or antonyms for a chosen word. Ultimately, you will have to gauge your class’s level — but the first option (word + definition) should work well for most groups!
Related article: get your students moving with these 13 Movement-Based Exit Activities
3. Punctuation/grammar review (independent vs. dependent clauses, etc.)
To use inside-outside circles for punctuation or grammar review, you could keep the oral “question/answer” format, or you could adapt this activity ito a “flashcard” format.
For the flashcard format, you could print off a piece of paper students would show each other. For example, if you are reviewing the concept of dependent/independent clauses, you would print a clause that the student would hold up and ask their partner, “Is this a dependent or independent clause?”
Ideally, for an activity like this, you would also have the student prepare an explanation in case the other student answers incorrectly.
A punctuation review could look similar. For example, if you are reviewing comma usage, you could have a sentence written on a piece of paper that the student would hold up, allowing the partner to state where the comma should go.
4. Writing concept review
This activity can be a great way to add motion and active engagement to a writing unit. You could use this to review common writing concepts you are covering in your unit.
For example, you could include questions about writing vocabulary such as thesis statement, MLA format, citation, etc. You could also add tasks like “name a technique you could use for a hook in your introduction” with the list of answers being different techniques you have reviewed with students in class.
5. Quiz alternative
This echoes the idea in #1 (regarding the novel review), but this idea might serve as a substitute for a quiz you would do at the end of a story. Instead of assigning the quiz, you could print the quiz, cut each question out, and do the quiz through an inside-outside circle activity. This quiz alternative is much more “low stakes” than an individual quiz, and it might boost their confidence going into your next activity.
6. Ice breaker
While we typically do ice breakers week one, you can do this at any point in the year — it can be a great way to break up the monotony of the classroom and help students learn more about each other.
As an ice breaker, you can put a general question on each card that the student could ask the partner. For example, what did you do over winter vacation? Describe your ideal day, etc. Ultimately, this would be a great active engagement ice breaker for your English classroom!
I think all of these ideas are adaptable for elementary, middle, and secondary English levels. I would LOVE to hear how you use inside-outside circles and active engagement in your classroom! Share below!