Connection circles


  • [Description is from Waters Foundation training, see resource 1.]
  • Connection circles are thinking tools designed to help students understand complexity. Use connection circles as graphic organizers to analyze relationships among elements in a system. Students read a book or selection, listen to a story or participate in a discussion. They then select and analyze the elements that they think are most important.
  1. Identify the elements in the story that have changed or could cause a change in another element.
  2. Draw a circle with the elements on the perimeter. If you choose to add behavior over time graphs to the elements, limit the number of elements to the most important 5-10.
  3. Identify causality: the elements that cause change in other elements. Draw an arrow from the cause to the effect, and label the arrow with a + or - to indicate direct or inverse relationships. The circles may become very complex at this point.
  4. Follow up: use the diagram to retell the story or draw causal loop diagrams.


  • This is from the 7/11//2008 NPR podcast on coral reefs. For simplicity, the connection lines are not labeled with arrows or signs.
  • ConnectionCircle.gif


  1. Waters Foundation (description and several other examples; you can search for "connection circles" to find more examples)