Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Circle Maps

K20 Center | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


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Circle Maps

This strategy uses a graphic organizer to introduce new content or enhance a student’s understanding of an existing concept.

Circle Maps


Students complete a graphic organizer about a topic or key term from the lesson, writing down as many words describing the topic or key term as possible before sharing out their responses. This helps students make connections between existing knowledge and new knowledge.


  1. Give students a concept, main idea, or key term to use as a prompt.

  2. Students write the prompt in the middle of a blank piece of paper.

  3. Set aside a window of time for students to record as many descriptors of the prompt as possible. This can be done individually or in small groups.

  4. Have students (or a representative from each group) share out some of their descriptors for discussion. As this occurs, provide feedback and make relative connections between what is shared and the lesson's concepts.

  5. During the sharing period, have listeners add one new word to their circle and literally circle it. This is to increase depth of knowledge by making connections between their prior and new knowledge.

  6. As an exit ticket, have students draw a square around their Circle Map. This is called the "frame of reference." In this square, each individual (or group) constructs a three sentence summary of the main idea, concept, or key term using the descriptors listed in their circle map as a guide.

Hyerle, David, & Alper, Laurence. (2011). Student Successes With Thinking Maps.