Strategy:     Fishbowl

Time:             30-90 minutes

Intent:         Fishbowl is a strategy for discussion in which a small group of students debate or discuss a topic or model processes/strategies while the rest of the class observes from a distance. This method encourages active participation and persuasive reasoning among the debaters, while allowing the observers to see how certain strategies succeed or fail.


  • Ask a group of 3-5 students to be in the fishbowl by forming a small circle. Have the remaining students form a larger circle around the smaller circle.
    • This activity is most effective when students have had an opportunity to prepare ideas and questions in advance.
    • Provide the discussion topic/process or strategy to be modeled at the end of the previous class, or at the beginning of class and allow a few minutes for students to prepare.
    • Be aware that some students may need to have the fishbowl demonstrated  prior to use in the classroom
  • Provide the following guidelines:
    • Only the smaller inner circle of students will talk.
    • The larger outer circle of students will observe and take notes on the progress of the discussion and smaller inner circle group’s interaction.
    • Though the larger outer circle of students will not speak during the fishbowl discussion, they will have the opportunity to address any issues that arise in the follow-up discussion.
  • Provide the discussion topic /question/process or strategy to all students and ask the small inner circle group to begin their discussion.
  • When the discussion is complete, ask students from the larger outer circle to report out on how they think the discussion went.
    • Examples of questions for the students to consider are
      • What did you hear that surprised you?
      •  What did you observe that contributed to further understanding of the topic or process?
      • What did you learn from this experience?


  • Provides structure for in-depth discussion and provides an opportunity for students to model or observe group processes in a discussion setting.
  • This teaching strategy helps students practice being both contributors and listeners in a discussion. This strategy is especially useful when you want to make sure all students participate in the discussion; when you want to help students reflect on what a “good discussion” looks like; when you want students to consider a variety of perspectives or viewpoints; when you want students to walk through a process together; and when you need a structure for discussing controversial or difficult topics.
  • Fishbowls allow the instructor to see what misconceptions students have and to address them.


Additional Information/Video:



     Fishbowl (26 minutes)

The Baker College System