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Fishbowl Discussions

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Brandon Maze

on 14 January 2015

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Transcript of Fishbowl Discussions

Steps to Implement
Depending on whether this is a formal or informal discussion exercise, how it is assessed will vary. It may be that the "fish" receive only feedback (verbal or written) from those outside the circle. Or, it may be a basic participation score. However, if it is a formal assessment, you'd want to use a rubric.
Fishbowl Discussions
What is a fishbowl discussion?
A fishbowl is a well-researched, structured student-driven discussion that explores a text and/or an issue.

It is not an argument or a debate.

It is okay for students to leave the discussion with a different perspective on the issue than they started with; the point of the discussion is to explore different ideas and to gain a deeper understanding of a text or theme.
Discussion Rules and Etiquette
Suggested rules and etiquette:
Only one speaker at a time - students would lose points for interrupting.
Respond to the previous speaker. Pay close attention to what others are saying.
Students must support their statements with evidence.
They should cite their sources. It may be helpful to give them sentence starters (
In The Hunger Games, when...
, or
According to a CBS news poll...
Paraphrase the text correctly
Avoid repetition and rambling
Be clear, concise, courteous, and dynamic
Use academic language to address other speakers:
While I understand your point, what about...
Similar to ____, I feel that ____ because...
Physical Structure of a Fishbowl
There are numerous ways to arrange your classroom during a fishbowl. The most common is pictured here.
How can you use them?
Depending on your goals, a fishbowl can be a/an:
Informal Assessment
used to simply discuss/explore
practice speaking/listening skills
develop ideas for written responses
Formal Assessment
formally assess listening and speaking
wrap up a novel/unit
Creating Discussion Questions
However, you do not have to arrange your room is way. Your arrangement should be determined by your goals.
Open Fishbowls
Outside/Observer Roles
The key to an effective fishbowl discussion is a thought-provoking open-ended question that is open to various interpretations.

It can be literature-based, topical, or a combination.
Sample Questions
1. Students will be assigned a discussion question, or students will generate their own questions after reading a text.
2. Students research their topics/text to come up with different perspectives or questions in response to the question and find supporting evidence, such as examples from literature and/or non-fiction texts, expert opinions, definitions, statistics, and anecdotes/personal experiences (if you choose).
3. Individuals will write their thoughts, supporting evidence, and questions, and prepare to speak.
4. The groups will discuss! The discussion must flow logically. Once the first speaker has shared a statement with supporting evidence, the next speaker must respond by adding another supporting detail or example or by asking a question. Every idea/example must build upon the previous idea.

1. Reporter – This student will take notes during the discussion and be prepared to sum up the most convincing points and the evidence that supported them. Also, he/she will add what he/she thinks is the best resolution to the issue based on the entire discussion.

2. Silent contributor – This student will take notes during the discussion and think about how he/she would respond to viewpoints, questions, and evidence shared. What would he/she have said? This student must also be sure to provide context for the statements/evidence he/she would add.

3. Shadower – This student will be assigned to a specific participator (fish) during the discussion and take notes on his/her reasons and evidence, his/her use of paraphrasing, his/her delivery, etc. This feedback can be used to help those students improve their performance in fishbowl discussions.

Sample Rubric
Sample Score Sheet to Use During Discussion
1. What is it in human nature that makes us want to do what is forbidden? In Eden, Adam and Eve are in paradise where they want for nothing, yet Eve chooses to eat the forbidden fruit despite God's command. Pandora, though set up by the gods, chooses to open the box she was told not to open. What causes us to disobey rules and authority even when we know they're there for our own benefit?

2. It is the nature of the Hunger Games

for the tributes to play to the audience and sponsors to survive. Is it acceptable to change one's self--physically, morally, or otherwise--to gain success/fame? Make connections to both
The Hunger Games
and our society today.
1. Is Death an effective or ineffective narrator of
The Book Thief
? Think about how the narrator impacts certain aspects of the story (suspense and foreshadowing, characterization, style, and the reader's connection to the novel).

2.Is Mr. Baumer in A.B. Guthrie's story "Bargain" justified in seeking vengeance on Slade and taking justice into his own hands?
1. Television today is dominated by reality programming. Is this a positive or negative influence on society?

2. If the most valuable things in life are not riches and power, why do some people go to such great lengths to acquire them? Even being willing to step on others to attain them?
Literature-Based Questions
Topical Questions
Combination Questions
Fishbowls may be intimidating because it is difficult to relinquish control of the class and the direction of its discussion; however, if you prepare the students well, they will have the structure and the tools to effectively drive the discussion.
Sample Informal Rubric


fishbowl has one or two empty seats in the inner circle.
These "hot seats" are open for students from the outer circle to join the fishbowl.
After the person in the hot seat has made his/her point, he/she must go back to the outer circle to give someone else a chance to share. *
This is one way to allow all students the opportunity to join the discussion.
fishbowl does not have a "hot seat" and the instructor may choose how to rotate students
Full transcript