Fishbowl Discussion (online)

Using Fishbowl Discussion activity to facilitate discussion in an online course
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Medium


The Fishbowl Discussion is a teaching strategy that encourages full student participation, reflection, and depth of knowledge. A small group of students is selected to be the fish (in the fishbowl), while the rest of the class will be observers (out of the fishbowl). Students in the bowl participate in a discussion by responding to an instructor's prompt. Students outside of the bowl listen and reflect on the alternative viewpoints.


Use it when you want...

  • To make sure all students participate in a discussion,
  • To develop strong speaking and listening skills,
  • To encourage reflection on and assess the elements of a good discussion, or
  • To provide a helpful process of discussing controversial or difficult topics.

What students will need


The following workflow is meant to guide how to facilitate a Fishbowl Discussion active learning online.


  • Identify an engaging question or problem that has many potential responses. Try responding to the question yourself.
  • Develop guidelines for students to assess the quality of the discussions.
  • Select the desired approach and prepare the technology to facilitate the activity (e.g., Create a shared Google Doc for each group or set up your Zoom session for the class).

Online (Synchronous)

  • Direct students to the Zoom session during scheduled class time.
  • Present students with the topic to discuss or debate.
  • Provide students with guidelines for listening to and participating in the discussion.
  • Send students to their small groups. Consider limiting the group size to 3-5 students.
    • Visit Using Breakout Groups To Increase Student Engagement for more information on setting up small groups in Zoom.
  • Provide small groups with time (up to 5 minutes) to gather their thoughts before beginning the Fishbowl.
  • After 5 minutes, bring students back from their breakout groups into the main room.
  • Begin the Fishbowl discussion by calling attention to the performance of one group. 
    • In Zoom, hover your cursor over the students you would like to spotlight as Fish in the Fishbowl. Select the three dots in their window and select "Spotlight for all." Do this for each student that will be fish in the Fishbowl.
  • Present the fish with the question again and ask them to begin their discussion or debate.
  • Non-fish students take notes or use a rubric shared through Google Docs to evaluate the discussion. In some situations, students are given time to ask the participants questions.
  • Once the discussion is complete, refocus the class on the performance of the next fishbowl group ("unPin" spotlighted students in Zoom).
  • When fishbowl time is up, facilitate a debrief. Students should reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of each discussion, the quality of their performances, and what they learned from the activity. A fishbowl assessment form may facilitate the debriefing.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.

Technical Documents

Video Examples


Louisiana State University. Active Learning While Physical Distancing. URL:

KeywordsFishbowl, discussion, synchronous discussion, fishbowl discussion, zoom discussion, onlineDoc ID107982
OwnerJulie J.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-12-18 12:39:45Updated2024-04-16 12:40:22
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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