An Active Classroom is a Student-Centred Classroom

image source: www.bigstockphoto.comI hope my title did not conjure images of technology-enhanced learning with visions of smartphones, iPads, and laptops dancing up through the air. On the contrary,
this blog is about students stirring, moving in circles, and engaging in conversation. I’m talking about face to face interaction, where students are talking and listening to each other while the teacher is watching.

In the ESL classroom: LINC, ESL or EAP – we teachers need to have many ideas up our sleeves to make sure students are not yawning but interacting with one another and having fun while learning. Last year in September, I shared two of these strategies. You can read them here: In this blog, I share another one that I have found students also enjoy:

Inner Circle-Outer Circle

In this activity, students form two circles. The inner circle with students facing outward and the outer circle with students facing inward. The inner circle leads the conversation, while the outer circle responds and extends the topic. Note that having the same number of students in each circle is best as the idea is for students to work in pairs. If you don’t have an even number, do not despair; students can share leading the activity so that everyone gets a turn.

Choosing a Topic

The teacher gives a topic to the students in the inner circle (a different topic per student makes the activity even more fun, but it will depend on the level). The topic can be general, such as education, camping, weather; or it can be specific, such as questions using the past, present, or future tense.

Rotation and Timing

Students in the inner circle rotate clockwise, while those in the outer circle rotate counter-clockwise. The teacher times each move – which should be timed at different intervals, depending on how conversations are developing. Music can be used to signal each rotation (as in musical chairs) or by clapping or calling out ‘Change.’  It’s your choice. What is important at this stage is to observe how conversations are progressing and assess areas students might need more practice (e.g. pronunciation, grammar, and/or pragmatics awareness).

Carrying on the Conversation

The purpose of this activity is to challenge students to carry on a conversation which can lead to other topics. How complex it gets will depend upon the skill and background knowledge of the two interlocutors.

Giving Everyone a Chance to Lead

Any time during the activity, the teacher can ask students to switch circles so that everyone can practice either starting or continuing a conversation.

More Advanced Moves

For more advanced groups, students in the outer circle can be assigned the role of adversary and the ones in the inner group the role of persuader. This is a great strategy to teach negotiating skills or to introduce students to the art of debating.

Now it’s your turn…

Tell us about some interactive activities you’ve used lately.  Or if you try this one out, let us know how it went.





Hi, my name is Cecilia. I love taking part in good brain awakening discussions. Blogging, I find, lends itself for that. I also believe in sharing my skills through scholarly practice, which is why I write regularly and have presented at several conferences, including TESL Ontario, TESL Toronto, CALL, and at Seneca College. My M.A. in applied linguistics along with my skills and experience have led me to my current position at Centennial College, where I teach English and ESL in the School of Advancement. I'm truly passionate about what I do: teaching, writing, creative expression, and helping my students (both L1 and L2) gain agency and take control of their own learning. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to reading and answering your comments. You can find me on Twitter @capontedehanna


6 thoughts on “An Active Classroom is a Student-Centred Classroom”

  1. Thank you for this idea, Cecilia!

    I agree that we need to give our students ample opportunity to speak and listen to one another. Reduce the “Teacher Talk Time” and increase the “Student Talk Time.” When I am roughing out the module and lesson plans for the week, I try to remember to go back over the plans to see if I’ve planned for at least half of every class to be interactive. Hopefully no more than 20% of the time involves me at the front of the class blah, blah, blah-ing. 🙂

    1. Great! I know this activity as “Find Somebody Who.” Planning the activity to meet a specific learning outcome woukd certainly place it in the active learning category. For example, it can be extended to introduce a variety of language concepts. Students could generate a class profile and practice the comparative and superlative or it could be a way for students to hone their math skills by having them create graphs and present the information in the form of percentages.

      1. Cecilia,
        It’s actually a bit different from “Find Someone Who,” though the two activities are similar in some ways. I use the two much differently. The teachers at my school often use a “Find Someone Who” activity as an ice-breaker or to help students get back into the swing of English after a long break. Our students view it more as a game, especially if we play FSW Bingo with prizes. But the peer survey is much easier for literacy learners since they only have to ask two or three questions (we practice and drill them to death beforehand) and stay with one classmate for all of the questions before moving on. After the peer survey, we turn our results into sentences about each other, and later in the week we have a T/F quiz that will include a fact that was revealed during the peer survey.

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