Goals & Objectives:
There can be several primary goals of a fishbowl activity. The goals can
actually differ based upon whether the student is inside or outside of the
fishbowl as well. The following suggestions are separated by the participant's
During and after performing the Fishbowl activity, students will...
- If in the fishbowl
- demonstrate their knowledge of topic A...
- provide a logical argument for a position concerning topic A...
- If observing the fishbowl
- evaluate the arguments presented by others...
- reflect on new insights provided by the discussion.
- develop a higher awareness of the concept...
- have an increased understanding of various viewpoints...
...as determined by successfully attending to 80% of rubric items.
The instructor usually decides on the topic. The instructor should provide
some carefully constructed questions to help guide the discussion.
in the fishbowl must become well versed in the topic and able to discuss
Materials and Resources:
The instructor provides instructions. Students in the fishbowl may require
more active online access during the activity.
Guiding Questions for this Lesson:
How well can the student learn and subsequently discuss a given concept?
Lesson Outline and Procedure:
Students in the fishbowl discuss and possibly debate a point of information
or topic currently being learned. Students observing the fishbowl provide
feedback and personal observations.
- First, the instructor introduces materials for the students to learn
a given concept.
- A group of students are then assigned the fishbowl role. These assignments
can be made at the beginning of the term in order to facilitate student
schedules during the course.
- Those in the fishbowl then actively discuss the topic. This discussion
can be purely informational or it could be in the form of a debate. The
students could also be conducting group work while others watch. The bowl
may also be synchronous or asynchronous or even both.
- During the fishbowl discussion, the instructor may provide guiding questions.
Only those in the fishbowl should respond or actively participate.
- Following the fishbowl, the observers compose a constructive critique
or summary of the discussion. These can be public or submitted directly
to the instructor.
- All students incorporate what they have learned during the activity into
another activity such as a journal or module reflection.
- The instructor may provide a final summary point for the discussion before
beginning the next unit of activity.
- Keep it constructive. Any student comments need to be constructive from
the gallery in order to make those in the fishbowl comfortable.
- Keep the topic interesting, to motivate some students to actively participate
while being observed by others.
- Students in the fishbowl must have the opportunity to share what they
- Be careful of peripheral participation. Some students learn best in the
observing role, but everyone must participate at some point in the actual
fishbowl in order to demonstrate competence in action rather than just
from an evaluative standpoint, although both are important.
- Expect some students to get frustrated by this activity. For example,
an observer may have what s/he believes to be an excellent point that everyone
in the bowl is missing. It can be difficult for some students to keep that
idea to themselves until after the activity without getting frustrated.
- Allow the students to self-facilitate within the group or appoint a leader
if the activity goals include being able to lead a discussion on the given
- One advantage of the fishbowl for online education comes when synchronous
sessions are used. By limiting the active participants to those in the
fishbowl, the online synchronous discussion does not become difficult to
What accommodations may be needed for students with disabilities or other
special needs? In some cases, students with certain physical disabilities
will simply not be capable of performing certain actions. Rather than marginalize,
an online course can allow for accommodations such as alternative activities
or the performance of activities with the help of a physical aid or human
For those in the fishbowl, this can be an intensive activity requiring perhaps
5 hours in a given week. Those in the fishbowl need to be online every day
that they are actually assigned to be in the fishbowl. The observers can
come in at the end and observe the entire discussion in under an hour often.
A typical activity will run one week. There are also options for performing
the fishbowl in a synchronous setting, but there will still be about 5 hours
for the fishbowl members since they will be required to more carefully read
materials under discussion. The timeline may also change depending on whether
students have advanced knowledge of the fishbowl activity and their role.
Ideas for Lesson Evaluation and Teacher Reflection:
How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should
ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities.
How was student learning verified? The instructor can directly observe the
activities of the group in the fishbowl. Observers can be assessed based
on summaries or other activities concerning their experiences. Observers
can also be used to assess the performance of the students in the fishbowl.
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