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Fishbowl Discussion

Process of facilitating a fishbowl activity in a physically-distanced learning space

Time and Effort

Instructor Prep TimeLow
Student Activity TimeLow
Instructor Response TimeLow
Complexity of ActivityLow


Fishbowl Discussion is a teaching strategy that encourages full student participation, reflection, and depth of knowledge. Students are broken up into groups or teams. Each team takes turns being engaged in discussion (inside the bowl) and observing others' discussions (out of the bowl). Students in the bowl participate in a discussion responding to an instructor 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 useful process of discussing controversial or difficult topics.

What students will need


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Fishbowl Discussion active learning activity within a classroom with a physical distancing layout.


  • 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 (ex. Create a shared Google Doc for each group or set up your Zoom session for the class).


  • Organize students into groups of 3-5 members.
  • Present students with the topic to discuss or debate.
  • Provide students with guidelines for listening to and participating in the discussion.
  • Provide students with time (up to 5 minutes) to gather their thoughts before beginning.
  • Begin the discussion by calling attention to the performance of one group. 
  • Students organize themselves into groups around the room while maintaining distance — not moving furniture.
  • The other groups take notes or use a rubric shared through Google Docs to evaluate the discussion. In some situations, students are given time to ask questions of the participants.
  • Group feedback on presentations can take place using the Zoom Chat feature or Top Hat discussion question type.
  • Once the discussion is complete, refocus the class on the performance of the next group.
  • 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. The debriefing may be facilitated by a fishbowl assessment form.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • Classroom furniture is not to be rearranged to facilitate activities. If you need a different general assignment classroom to meet your instructional needs, contact your curricular representative.
  • If students are to move around the room during an activity, consider the mobility, location, equipment, and furniture needs of all students.
  • The physical distance between students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak.
  • This same physical distance may increase the noise level in the room as students try to speak to one another. This noise level may cause issues for some students. To this end, it is recommended that group size be limited to pairs (ideally) or triads at most. Activities requiring larger group sizes should utilize text-based chat solutions like those found in Zoom.
  • 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:

See Also:

Keywords:fishbowl, discussion, active learning, physical distance   Doc ID:104085
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Remote Instruction
Created:2020-07-16 16:02 CDTUpdated:2021-07-06 09:02 CDT
Sites:Remote Instruction
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