Fishbowl Teaching Strategy 

The Fishbowl teaching strategy is a fantastic way for students to get a small group discussion within a whole class setting.

I love using the fishbowl teaching strategy with my classes. Students love getting in and out of the circle and sharing their ideas with peers. The Fishbowl teaching strategy is a fantastic way for students to get a small group discussion within a whole class setting.

How Does This Fishbowl Teaching Strategy Work?

  1. Pick and prepare a discussion topic like you would for a standard full-class discussion.  Depending on your class and situation, you might act as the discussion leader or you may want your students to take turns. This also works well with discussion prompts. I use this strategy at the beginning of the year to get students used to talking in front of their peers about their opinions. I assign them opinion-based questions and then they make point form answers about each question. The next day we have a fishbowl discussion.
  2. Have the class create a circle of chairs in your room. Then place 4-6 of those chairs in the middle of the circle. Re-adjust your outer circle. 
  3. Students seated inside the circle of chairs take an active role in the discussion, sharing thoughts and ideas, asking questions, and responding to classmates. Those on the outside of the circle take a passive role, listening, thinking and recording ideas about what is said in the Fishbowl. I collect the students’ notes at the end of the activity and give credit for students’ work. This helps to eliminate off-task behaviour. 
  4. Students rotate into the Fishbowl.  You can do this in a couple of ways. One is to rotate roles every 3-5 minutes with the teacher directing the switch. This seems to work well for middle school students. Another is to use the “tap” method.  Students on the outside tap a classmate who is in the Fishbowl on the shoulder and switch roles with him or her when the outside student has something he or she wants to contribute to the conversation. If you are using this method, it can be beneficial to have a required number of times in the circle each student is expected to fulfill.
  5. To use this strategy in a digital classroom have only the four students who are selected to talk unmute their microphones and speak. Set up a rotation of who will speak in what order.

How Do I Use This Strategy?

  1. Class Discussion: A Fishbowl is a great way to add variety to your normal whole-class discussion.
  2. Problem Solving: I love to use this when I am having students figure out challenging problems in class. This could be anything from giving the students a complicated sentence to diagram or a complicated proof in Geometry or discussing a social issue. 
  3. You can even set up a “Double Fishbowl” where you have two smaller inside circles (3-5 students in each) in two parts of the classroom, each working on the same problem while those on the outside move and observe both.

Why Do I Love This Strategy?

  1. Students participate in much the same manner as a regular discussion, but a Fishbowl adds a small-group atmosphere to what is actually a whole-class discussion.
  2. Students are required to listen as well as talk in this discussion. By having listeners sit on the outside of the circle, it reinforces the idea that a discussion is not just about talking but listening as well.

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