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Fishbowl Activity for the Science Classroom
activity was originally designed by Allison Godshall and the staff at the School
of the Future. The author modified the activity based on action research in her
own classroom as well as observation in other classrooms.
Notes for the Teacher: A great way to incorporate student-lead discussions is through a fishbowl activity.
Popular among humanities teachers, a fishbowl activity allows students to engage
in a discussion that is facilitated by a “student leader” and allows the students
themselves take ownership of the talk. It is also a modeling activity for accountability;
the activity is designed so that there is also observation occurring between students
to push for active listening, and constructive interaction.
fishbowl can be easily adapted in science classrooms. Teachers can use the protocol
to have students share and discuss lab results. As a part of a lab activity students
can design an experiment setup. It is also a perfect structure for a debate or
addressing current events.
following lesson will guide you throughout the activity, from setup to completion.
For a successful fishbowl, read the whole lesson first before implementation.
The first two fishbowls maybe a struggle for you, especially for classrooms that
has been traditionally teacher-centered. Active listening, constructive and accountable
talk take practice, therefore the more you use activities such as the fishbowl
in the classroom, the more the students will adopt them as a classroom routine.
Objectives: In addition to content
objectives, students will also be able to..
- Practice/engage in accountable and constructive
discussion between each other
- Share content understanding
- Build on each other’s content understanding
- Push each other to address misconceptions
Teaching Standard B. Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning.
In doing this, teachers:
- Focus and support inquiries while interacting with
- Orchestrate discourse among students about scientific
- Challenge students to accept and share responsibility
for their own learning.
- Recognize and respond to student diversity and
encourage all students to participate fully in science learning.
- Encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry,
as well as the curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism that
Accountability sheet (download in PDF format), 1 sheet per partner group.
The sheet is designed to be printed out as one sheet, front and back. The top
portion of the sheet goes to the fishbowl participant, while the bottom belongs
to his/her observer partner outside the fishbowl. Note that there is a reverse
side, which is identical for all students.
a class leader – use your best judgment
to select a student leader who you think will make the conversation a benefit
for all students. This teacher usually selects a student who has strong verbal
skills, and has an adequate understanding (doesn’t need to be superior) of the
subject. He/she is good at challenging ideas and asking questions. The student
needs to be well rounded socially so that everyone is comfortable under his/her
the discussion topic with the students ahead of time so everyone has time to prepare.
Be sure that the preparation materials are open-ended enough that students can
really challenge the topic later on in the discussion. Be sure to push for evidence
and connection between ideas.
students to be fishbowl participants and observers. Be sure that there is an equal
amount of active and non-active students in both groups. This teacher usually
has two groups of students, who interchange between participants and observers.
Therefore, students switch roles in each discussion activity, and are always surprised
on whether they will need to be active participants.
questions for the student leader to help guide the discussion (see
attached worksheet). Don’t overwhelm the students by making them address 10
questions within the class time. A good number would be 3-4 questions and issues.
A good question may be addressing misunderstandings, so anticipate any issues
that may come up.
this is your first time doing a fishbowl, you need to schedule time to explain
to the students on how the activity works. Read through the activity to help you
get a good sense of the protocol.
- Student leader addresses wrap up questions before
- Students complete their accountability sheets individually.
They must quietly complete the reverse side of the sheet that requires them to
reflect on the discussion.
- As the teacher, you may want to quickly address
some points not covered in the discussion.
- If you are a first timer of this protocol, you
will get traditionally quiet students who hardly participated. Their observer
partner will make this point to you. Assure them that its okay, and note on the
sheet that “my partner did not participate”. The quiet student will not get credit
for the activity. This teacher usually accounts 20% of students’ overall grade
on constructive class participation. Usually students who are quiet learn to immerse
themselves actively in a science classroom culture that emphasizes a balance between
content understanding and contribution!
- Grade according to a system you are comfortable
with. This teacher usually grades on a point scale from 1-10, with 10 being the
highest achieving. Standards that should be considered: (1) Does the student actively
listen to all the points and evidences addressed in the conversation? (2) Does
the student think deeply about the topic on an individual level? (3) Was there
evidence of active engagement on the part of the student? For fishbowl participants,
was he/she listening, talking and connecting points? For the observer, was he/she
listening to his/her partner as well as the whole group? Usually, evaluating both
partners’ sheets next to each other will help you access the level of participation
between each individual.
- You can allow the partners to look at each other’s
sheets, and have them help each other assess their success in the activity. This
can prepare students for their next fishbowl!
- Differentiation in the fishbowl lies in the arrangement
of the two student groups – with any of the groups to be fishbowl participants
one day and observer in another. You need to groups that will have productive
conversations. Considering student strengths and personalities are the factors
here. You want two groups that are dynamic that do not consist of cliques, and
are not dominated by personalities and strengths. Discussions that end too quickly
(groups mainly consist of students who do the work, or passive students), that
are full of content errors (groups that consist of students who are academically
challenged), and that are not focused (groups that consist of cliques and friends)
need to be rearranged.
an Inclusion classroom where you have ESL students, you may need sacrifice the
“element of surprise” by informing students which groups will be fishbowl participants.
The ESL student might want to script out his/her points and read them out before
hand. He/she might want to address their ideas first before the conversation starts.
This way, their points maybe an anchor to start the conversation and their points
be taken constructively. This is in comparison to if they jump into a conservation
with their script that might be pointless in the current discussion.
Feel free to contact me via email about your experiences
with the fishbowl at email@example.com
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