How to Do a Circle-Writing Activity

Students working in group on writing project.
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One of the ways to improve writing skills and possibly enhance understanding of story structure or a topic, regardless of level, is a circle-writing activity in which students collaboratively write a story. It's similar to the game of telephone where a whispered phrase is made all the more interesting as it passes from person to person. In this activity, however, each student adds her own twist.

1 Group Setup

This circle-writing activity works best with groups no larger than six. Assign the story idea or topic, or have the group brainstorm its own. The idea topic should be narrow enough so the group ends up with a fairly cohesive piece of writing at the end, yet general enough so as not to restrict the writers' imaginations. Hand one sheet of lined paper to the first person in the group. Establish the rules for writing, such as minimum or maximum amount each student should write. Students can even leave sentences open-ended, such as, "Harry finally shoved the door open to the long locked room, and there he saw..."

2 Building the Story

Nothing should be read out loud until the end. After the first person finishes his contribution, he silently passes the sheet of paper to the second person and so on until the paper returns to the first writer, completing the circle. At this point, one of the students reads the piece to the group. In some versions of the activity, each student folds the paper so that only her contribution is visible to the next writer in the circle, which can produce some whimsical results.

3 Themed Variation

You can use this activity to illustrate a specific subject matter. For example, teacher and trainer Rachael Roberts adds a genre twist, in which she discusses with the class various writing genres, such as mystery, action and fantasy. Each student chooses a different genre, and they proceed through the activity writing their contributions, typically an entire paragraph, in the style of their chosen genre.

Anne Spollen writes and teaches in New York City. She has taught every grade from first through college level and has published two young adult books in addition to many essays, articles and fiction pieces. She holds permanent certification in both English and Spanish education and a Masters of English literature from SUNY at New Paltz.