Through this activity pairs of students engage in a brief discussion while the rest of the class observes and learns from the discussion. It can help students to promote a collaborative environment, to discuss text with greater sophistication, and to develop metacognitive awareness.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Predicting
  • Synthesizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Reflection
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Listening
  • Speaking

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Metacognition


Identify a topic of conversation and decide how much you want to structure and scaffold the discussion. You could simply present the topic, or you could provide sentence stems, learning strategies, or particular conversational rules that you want students to employ.

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher presents the topic of discussion and makes sure all students understand. If rules of discussion are being used, teacher presents them. Class forms a circle, with two chairs in middle of circle.
  2. A pair of students moves in middle of “fishbowl” and briefly converses on topic. The rest of the class observes closely, and may take notes.

    It may be helpful to provide students with a graphic organizer, sentence stems, or other scaffold to support their observations and notes of the conversation. Encourage students not to interrupt the people in the “fishbowl” for the designated conversation time period.

  3. Class discusses what they observed, addressing questions including: · What does each person believe about the topic? · How did each person learn from the other’s beliefs? · What conversational, rhetorical, and learning strategies did each person use?

    The teacher can model how to effectively learn from a conversation by making productive comments. Students may need explicit guidance about how to respectfully and effectively discuss another group’s conversation.

  4. The original pair returns to the circle, and a different pair of students enter the fishbowl. They discuss either the same topic, or a different one.

    Depending on your social and learning goals for the students, students can either volunteer to enter the fishbowl or you can choose them.

  5. Class discusses the second conversation, following the same pattern as above. This process continues as long as the teacher and class desire.

    It is often nice to keep fishbowl conversations brief and targeted, and to allow many student pairs to cycle through. Alternatively, it can be a nice activity to extend over several days.

  6. Students reflect on their learning, either in writing or in conversation. They should respond to questions including: · How did being in the fishbowl affect your understanding of the topic? How did it affect your understanding of ways to discuss this top

    Students may respond in exit tickets, journal reflections, or small-group or whole-group discussion.

Downloadable Resources 
Login to See More