Concept Circles: A Bright Idea…Repurposed

concept circle 1

Although I’m far from crafty or handy, I love the idea of repurposing.  Every time I pick up a Real Simple magazine or watch HGTV, I get ideas.  Rarely can I pull them off, but sometimes I can turn a party tub into a pool-towel holder or a bath mat into a wall hanging.  I am almost finished with a planter made from cement blocks (don’t ask me when I started it).


Fortunately, I’m a little handier when it comes to repurposing in the classroom.  When I find a strategy that works with one lesson, I love to flip it into another.

I adapted the Folger Shakespeare’s “Tossing Lines” activity into a pre-reading activity for short stories with great success.  I found the “One-Question Interview” that I re-worked to use with Life of Pi in a completely unrelated article about standardized testing from The New York Times.  My Word Part Football game was inspired by a sound-alike “soccer” game for young readers.  It took two years and many do-overs in the classroom to get it right, but it’s now a favorite Friday activity.

concept circles

I was introduced to concept circles as a vocabulary activity in a professional development workshop.  Janet Allen suggests using the simple circle divided into four sections to get students thinking and writing about vocabulary associated with a concept. I loved the simplicity of the design and knew I could use it for so much more than concept vocabulary:

Reading Checks.  Rather than writing the same-old recall questions as a reading check, why not use a concept circle to let the students show they understand the relationships between characters, events, and ideas?  I use them both as quizzes after reading homework and on reading response activities in class.  One variation on the method is to leave one section blank and allow the student to fill in a fourth related term.

Exit Slips.  After a lecture or classroom activity, draw a quick concept circle on the board and let the students summarize their understanding of the lesson.   Reading their one-sentence summaries will tell you exactly where you need to start your lesson in the next class.  You can increase the complexity by turning it into a game of Odd-Man-Out:  choose three words that relate to the content and one distractor.  Students have to explain how the three connect and why the fourth term does not fit.

Partner Review.  Give students a blank concept circle and a topic.  Ask them to fill the four words in on their own and then switch papers with a partner who explains the relationships among those four words. They return their synthesis statements to the creator of the concept circle for evaluation.  The process of grading each other’s work will help reinforce the content and help them learn to construct stronger responses as well.

From the start of my teaching career, people have told me there is nothing new in education and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  I concur, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with spending a little time repurposing a good idea to fit other needs.  How have you reused or repurposed a good idea in your classroom?  What strategy works well with one text that you could tweak to use with others?


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