Newsela 101: Circle Discussion

In honor of Veterans’ Day, I wanted my students to learn about the history of the day and engage in relevant conversation about what they learned. Often times my students absorb information but don’t always know how to effectively communicate what they’ve read to others. Leading them in a circle discussion was a great way to practice their communication skills.


Students will engage in a formal discussion that is regulated by themselves and their peers.


Fishbowl, Socratic Seminar, Circle Discussion – it’s an activity that goes by many names. However, the goal remains the same which is to engage students in a student-led and discussion over content covered in class. As a more formal discussion, this activity works best towards the end of a unit after students have a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. Reading articles on Newsela pairs great with this activity because it ensures students are accessing the information at their reading level. This evens the playing field and allows all students to have a voice in the conversation. The set up for this activity depends on the number of students in the class. For smaller classes, have students set up in one circle. Use a talking piece and establish discussion norms with the class. Encourage all students to participate and keep track of how they participate. For larger classes, use a two circle approach where the students partner up and form two concentric circles. Set a timer for a desired amount of time and when the timer goes off have the students in the inner circle switch with the students in the outer circle and repeat the discussion process with only the inner circle talking each time.

In order to set my students up for success in our circle discussion, I assigned one article to the boys and a different article to the girls. Kids knew they were responsible for sharing information with someone who hadn’t read the same material, so they were attentive to what they were reading.  While they read students used the annotation tool to mark three things they felt were important and wrote why they thought those points were noteworthy.

Once all students had read & annotated their article and taken the quiz, they circled up in the middle of the room. The girls formed an inner circle facing outward and the boys formed an outer circle facing inward. The girls started with one minute on the timer during which they shared a summary of their article and their annotations and afterward the boys had 30 seconds to ask questions. This process was repeated with the boys sharing and the girls asking questions. After those three minutes were up the boys rotated three people to their right while the girls stayed put. All told, we went through this process four times. At the end of our discussion students came together for an all-class discussion and shared what they had learned.

Click here for a circle discussion recording sheet. This sheet is used by the teacher to keep track of students’ participation in the circle duscussion.

Tips and Suggestions:

  • Establish discussion norms and hold students to those norms.
  • In the inner circle and outer circle format feel free to add empty “hot seats” where students from the outer circle can enter the inner circle discussion for a designated amount of time.
  • This works great as a review of content and topics from a unit of study.
  • For younger students, it works best to have the teacher moderate the discussion.

Newsela 101: Circle Discussion
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