Three Circles: A ‘getting to know you’ activity

Recently, Sandy Millin wrote a post about an activity called Hobby Circles. I really liked the idea of the activity, so I tried it out in a few classes.

However, I’ve come to call this ‘the three circles activity’ because I used this activity for several language points.

These include:

  • Talking about hobbies and activities that collocate with go, play and do.
  • Discussing music & movies. Focusing on information questions to find out more details.
  • Can / Can’t – for talking about abilities
  • The Present Perfect – for talking about experiences & asking follow up questions in the past simple.

Other uses I can imagine for this activity:

  • Writing down three things you did in your week. They can be anything. Watched aTV show, did homework, went to work.
  • Write down three things you will do on the weekend.
  • Talking about wishes and future plans.
  • Writing down three opinions about a topic and discussing it.
    • Note:You may want to work up to this by presenting example opinions, discussing them, brainstorming for new opinions, eliciting them and then allowing the students to complete their circles.

I tried this activity with both teenagers and adults, and in both cases it was very successful getting the students talking. It was so successful that I almost didn’t want to stop the activity.

I then sent Sandy a message saying that I would like to write a post talking about this activity. Sandy kindly said yes.  As a result, I have prepared two video demonstrations about the activity that are very similar to the style in which I presented it in class. I hope they will be useful for you if you plan on trying this activity in the classroom.

The Three Circles Activity

Watch this video for an explanation of the three circles activity.

The video run-time is 1:10 minutes long.

Setting up the Activity

  • Ask the students to draw three large circles on a piece of paper.
  • Write 3 hobbies, activities, abilities, experiences or likes and dislikes inside the circles. The stems you provide will be slightly different for each.
    • Note: ~ing is highlighted to remind students that they may have to use the base form when asking their follow up questions.
  • Introduce the students to some useful phrases.
  • Introduce the students to some useful questions they can use to ask for additional details.
  • Use S-S modelling with guidance and ICQs to check the students understand what they have to do.

Mingling

  • Set a time limit and tell the students to ask as many other students as they can about their interests / abilities / experiences.
    • Note: Tell students to talk to people from other groups. They can’t talk to the members of their group or the person sitting next to them. 
  • If the students they talk to share their same interests / abilities / experiences, they should write their name and information inside the circle.
  • If the students they talk have a different interest / ability / experience, they should write their name and information outside their circles.

Reporting the information

  • When the time is up, ask the students to return back to their groups or their partner.
  • Introduce the stems and phrases students can use to talk about the things they have learnt from their classmates.

“Who did you speak to?”
“I spoke to Jane.”
“Who’s Jane.”
“That’s Jane over there.” *student points* “She likes —-.”

  • Continue the conversation by asking for more information.

“Why does Jane like —-?”

The Venn Variation

Watch this video for an explanation of the three circles activity – Venn variation.

The video run-time is 1:26 minutes long.

Setting up the Activity

  • Ask students to work in groups of three.
  • Ask the students to draw three large circles on a piece of paper.
    • Note: Each student in the group should do this. Don’t rely on a single writer.
  • The students should write their names in each circle. One circle = One name.
  • Introduce the students to some useful phrases.
  • Introduce the students to some useful questions they can use to ask for additional details.
  • Explain how a Venn diagram works. If one student has a different answer, write it in their circle. If two students have the same answer, write it where their circles overlap. If three students have the same answer, write it in the middle where all the circles overlap.
  • Use S-S modelling with guidance and ICQs to check the students understand what they have to do.

Group Discussion

  • Introduce the phrase ‘have in common.’
  • Set a time limit and tell the students to find out as many things that they have in common with their group members as they can.
  • Remind the students to use follow questions to find out more information.

Reporting the information

  • Ask the students to form new groups. It doesn’t matter if you use pairs, threes, or groups of four at this stage.
  • Introduce the stems and phrases students can use to talk about the things they have in common with their classmates.

“Who did you speak to?”
“I spoke to Mike and Jane. Mike and I both like —-, but Jane prefers —-.”

  • Continue the conversation by asking for more information.

“Why does Jane prefer —-?”
“Because she thinks it’s —-.”

Troubleshooting the Activity

The videos (above) are just examples of how to run the activity. The activity itself is very flexible at the students are not limited to the language in the useful phrases box. Particularly if the students are higher level.

So, however you plan to run the activity, it is always worth troubleshooting it before you try it out in your class.

Possible Problems

  1. Students’ can’t think of three things
    • This can happen if your students have long school/work days, busy schedules and weekend tuition/work.
  2. Students’ write down things that aren’t topic specific.
    • This happens as a result of the first problem. Particularly if you use this activity to discuss hobbies, students may write down things they like which are not strictly hobbies. 
  3. Students can be modest when discussing abilities.
    • This is a cultural factor to consider. Students may sometimes use ‘can’t’ instead of ‘not very good at’. 
  4. The students are all of a similar age and many people write down the same thing.
  5. Students may at times be uncomfortable talking about the things they like if it is perceived to be as uncool or not fashionable.

Possible Solutions

Don’t just focus on the positive.

For example, if you are talking about likes and interests, tell the students they can write down things that they don’t like and things that they aren’t interested in.

You may even want to give this as an instruction when you model the activity.

“Write down three things you like.”
“Write down two things you like and one thing you dislike.”
“Write down two things you dislike and one thing you like.”
“Write down three things you dislike.”

You will get students talking in the positive, the negative or a mixture of the two. Don’t feel limited by the example phrases in the video.

Write a ban list.

Don’t be afraid to write down a list of things that the students should avoid saying. Include answers which are common mistakes or misconceptions by the students and answers which occur because of L1 interference.

This will help avoid those common and repetitive answers.

This is of course easier with students who share the same first language and culture.

If you are new to teaching, talk to your colleagues about the topic you have chosen for the activity. They might be able to give you an insight into what students might say.

Introduce intensifiers and mitigators.

Intensifiers make adjectives stronger. So, good becomes very good or extremely good.

Mitigators make adjectives weaker. So good becomes fairly goodquite good or not very good.

We use mitigators when we want to be modest, often combining it with a ‘but…’ or ‘because…’

“I’m not very good but I enjoy it.”
“I’m not very good because I don’t have time to practice.”

This is a good way to remind students, particular when it comes to abilities that it isn’t just good vs. bad or can vs. can’t. There is a scale of ability and even knowing a little is a still an ability.

Allow students to be someone else.

If you feel that your students won’t want to share their own opinions or skills, you can make them feel a little more relaxed by asking them to think of a celebrity and imagine what the celebrity’s answers may be.

Alternatively, ask them to make up a new name and write down anything that interests them.

What’s important is that the student feels comfortable communicating and that they practice the language.

How would you run this activity? What variations could you think of? How else could we use three circles as a graphic organizer? Please leave a comment if you have any ideas you would like to share.

Alternatively you can send me a message on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Thanks for reading and take care!


Download the videos:

Click on Three Circles Demo Videos to download both activity introductions.

You may also like to read:

Hobby Circles by Sandy Millin – The original post that introduced the activity.

Esl.about.com has examples of different graphic organizers that they recommend for the classroom.

Busyteacher.org also have an article about 8 ways to use graphic organizers where they include activity suggestions – they also suggest using Venn Diagrams to compare what students have in common.

7 thoughts on “Three Circles: A ‘getting to know you’ activity

  1. Wow – looks really great. I had read Sandy’s post a while ago but had not quite grasped how to do it so your explanations have made me understand the value of this activity and you have also solved what to do in my new conversation classes starting next week. I wanted something engaging to get them off on the right foot. Thanks a lot!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for producing this post – it takes what was the germ of an idea and turns it into something fully fledged and much more useful to teachers! Susan, I can understand your problem (sorry!) and the videos definitely make it easier.
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sandy! And thanks for your kind comments about the Venn Variation.

      I can’t take credit for anything though because Hobby Circles was your idea, and the Venn Variation was something that grew organically.

      It started out as an activity suggestion from a coursebook, then I noticed some of my students had adapted it for irregular groups of three. Finally, the activity was supported by the stems you suggested for the ‘Hobby Circles’ activity. I just liked it because as a graphic organizer it can be applied to almost any topic.

      The two activities seemed to suit each other. I was just the guy to bring the ideas and observations together and make a couple of videos.

      Like

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