Inside/Outside Circles

This cooperative learning strategy actively engages students as they work with multiple partners to ask and answer questions or discuss topics related to the lesson or unit. Inside/Outside Circles works best when used with the whole class or a large group. This is a no-prep activity.

Download a Strategy Guide for this Activity


  1. Have half of the students form a large circle and the other half make a second circle inside the first.

  2. Students in the inner circle turn to face a partner standing in the outer circle. If there is an uneven number of students, two students can pair up by linking elbows and working as though they are one student. It is helpful to have students shake hands with their partner prior to starting the task.

  3. The students then talk with their partner and complete the communication task.

  4. After students complete the communication task, the teacher asks the students in the outside circle to move one or two places to the right or to the left.

  5. Students may do the same communication task with their new partner or perform a different task with each new partner, depending on the guidance of the teacher.

  6. The teacher repeats directions for movement and interaction at least three or four times.

  7. At the end, the teacher checks with various students to make sure they have completed the task.

Adaptation for Online/Distance Learning

  1. This activity requires the use of breakout rooms  (Google Meets, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.).

  2. Students are given a task to complete that requires them to interact in the language.  They are sent to breakout rooms and given a specific amount of time to interact to complete the task.   Students are then randomly grouped again and engage in the same task with a different partner. 

  3. For accountability: Have random students report out between rounds. Alternatively, create a google doc or graphic organizer and have students record appropriate information from each of their partners. Students might then use that information to create a written or spoken follow-up task. 

Helpful Tips

  1. Especially with younger learners, it may be helpful to assign students to the inside or outside of the circle, or even assign  students to a particular spot in each circle by having colored markers, numbers, or tape on the floor before having students move into position.

  2. Only have either the inside or outside circle move when changing partners to avoid having too many moving parts. 

  3. Ideally, the role of the teacher in this activity is one of a facilitator that circulates to listen to student interactions, provide support and feedback when necessary or appropriate, etc. The teacher may choose to participate in the activity when there is an odd number of students, but this is best done after students have done this activity a few times and are familiar with the routine.

  4. Be sure to limit the time of the interaction based on the proficiency level of the students, using shorter durations for novice level language users.

  5. The teacher may ask the students raise their hands when they are done with the task so the teacher knows when to signal the students to move to their next partner.


  1. For novice level students, the teacher may provide questions that students can practice answering in complete sentences.

  2. For intermediate level students, the teacher may give only a topic and allow students to generate their own questions to discuss with their partners.