Discussion Circles are Powerful!

  • by Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson
  • March 9, 2020, 9:58 a.m.

Written by Randi Anderson

Throughout the past year I've spent extensive time talking, collaborating, and brainstorming ideas all focused on classroom discussions circles. The research around discussion circles is astounding for student growth. In fact, classroom discussion has an effect size of .82 which translates to a TWO YEAR gain in student achievement. See Hattie's Effect size chart for reference.

If you are anything like me, you are interested in using instructional strategies that get the biggest bang for your buck, thus the biggest effective size. Discussion circles are key in ALL classrooms. The teacher is the facilitator and the students are team players in a discussion circle. Remember that "Whoever does the thinking, does the learning."

Discussion Circles in the Classroom

Before starting discussion circles in your classroom, we as educators must model how this will look. It's important to teach the conversation roles of listening and responding. This is key!


  1. Place students into team or circles of 3-4 participants. It's important to circle up for body language purposes.
  2. Give students a topic, question stem, or claim to be discussed. The students need to know the success criteria before discussions begin. Also, using accountable talk cards is helpful for students to have appropriate conversations.

Example of Success Criteria:

  • I will listen to my peer's comments.
  • I will respond appropriately with facts, details, explanations, or personal experience to comments made within my discussion circle.
  • I will pose a question to extend the learning on the claim or topic.

4. Allow students 3-5 minutes to discuss the topic in their groups. The teacher walks around to facilitate the conversations.

5. As an extension, teachers can have students do a quick write to wrap up the learning for 1-5 minutes. Discussions must happen before we ask students to write. It warms up the brain and gives us extensions of our own knowledge. Not to mention that fact that it brings down writing reluctance in students because we have equipped them with time to process the thinking with others and giving them new information to use in their writing.

Kelly Harmon and Randi Anderson

About The Authors

Kelly Harmon & Associates began in 2001 with a mission of instructional coaching and providing rich literacy resources for educators and parents. Our work incorporates research-based best practices for teaching and learning.

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