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Concentric Circles is a highly effective exercise in agendas where building relationships is important. Here's how Concentric Circles is explained in the book; in addition, click above to watch our video of “Concentric Circles” to see how the book will enable you to get the most from this exercise.

Concentric Circles

Goal  Communication, Interconnection
Time 20-40 minutes, depending on the number of questions you present for discussion
Physical contact None
Physical challenges Minimal
Number of participants 16-76 (ideally, about 30 people)
Space requirements Open floor space
Materials needed A chair for each participant
Preparation Prepare topics (see “Preparing Concentric Circles Topics”)

Note: Concentric Circles is a powerful bonding exercise because it gives individuals the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with others in one-on-one conversations. Because people are given an ordered situation in which to have these conversations, they are able to build relationships with others without the pressure or awkwardness that are often part of social interactions.

Note: If the group has an uneven number of people, a facilitator should participate in the circles. However, if there is not a second facilitator to keep time, you can either arrange one set of chairs as a triad or have one chair outside the circle in which a different person will sit out each round.

Preparing Concentric Circles Topics

How you choose topics will be driven by your purpose for doing Concentric Circles. For example, you might want to inspire the group to have an in-depth discussion about a topic, or the group might be on the verge of making an important decision and you want to be sure everyone has put some thought into various aspects of the decision.

It is best to structure the topics so that they build on each other and move forward chronologically. For example, you might begin by asking people to reflect on aspects of their own early lives, move towards the issues that will be addressed in the work section of the agenda, then move to more policy-oriented topics, and end with a chance for pairs to talk about the future.

The following set of topics would be appropriate for a training session for student teachers:

Chapter 10 on Warm-up Questions contains many ideas that could be useful in Concentric Circles.

Instructions

  1. Have the group arrange their chairs so that they are facing each other in two circles, one inside the other. You can have the group count off by 2s (1, 2, 1, 2…). Then have all the 1s form their chairs into an inner circle, facing the 2s who were to their left.  Or you can simply say that every other person should move their chair to face the person to their left. If the group includes people from different subgroups (for example, teachers and students), tell one subgroup to form the inner circle, so they will be talking with people from the other subgroup rather than to each other.
  2. Once the circles have been created, tell the group that they will be having a series of short conversations with a series of partners. They should introduce themselves to each new partner, and they should share the time so that each person has a chance to speak.
  3. Give the group a question that each pair is to discuss.
  4. After one or two minutes, call time. Allow less time for younger people and more time for older. (Keep the time short enough so that people still have more to say when they need to move on.) Tell the inside circle to move one seat to the left so that everyone is facing someone new.
  5. Remind people to be sure and introduce themselves to their new partners. Then give another question for the new pairs to discuss.
  6. In smaller groups, this continues until the inside circle has moved completely around to where they began. In larger groups, have people move 10 to 20 times, depending on how long you can dedicate to the exercise. Adjust the time you give each pair and the number of times you have people move according to the needs of the group and the constraints of the meeting.

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