- Select a topic, problem, assertion, or question to be discussed, solved, deliberated, or debated.
- Select or create learning supports (e.g. text readings, fact sheets, pro & con arguments, lecture) that will support substantive discussion. Present the supports to the students. Alternative – provide students with sufficient time to conduct research on the topic, problem, assertion, or question.
- Arrange desks or chairs so that there is a small inner circle (5-7 chairs) for the “fish” who will actively discuss and a larger outer circle for the “observers.”
- Teacher or students select members of the inner circle. Members of the inner circle take their seats.
- Teacher begins discussion by posing the topic to the inner circle. Write the topic, problem, assertion, or question on the board to maintain focus.
- Begin the discussion, deliberation, debate, or search for solution.
- Allow 30-60 seconds for each member of the inner circle to offer final thoughts.
- Debrief with the entire class (affording special attention to members of the outer circle):
- Which were the most persuasive points made?
- What are some counterpoints that did not surface?
- Did any inaccuracies or misconceptions surface?
- Which conclusions or solutions merit support?
- What were some of the most effective techniques employed by the inner circle?
- Options & Extensions:
- leave one empty chair in the inner circle for an observer from the outer circle to fill should he or she wish to enter the discussion. Establish time limits for observer participation so that other observers may enter.
- allow for “tagging” whereby outer circle observers may enter the fishbowl by “tagging” a member of the inner circle. The person who is tagged moves to the outer circle.
- teacher can assume responsibilities for moderating the discussion or assign that task to a permanent member of the inner circle.
- outer circle tasks: record strong or weak points made in the discussions or evaluate the performances of those in the inner circle.
- jigsaw prior to discussion. Break the class into small groups and have them develop positions that reflect a range of perspectives or solutions. Let each group elect a representative to serve as the group’s voice in the inner circle.
- Have students write a summative position or reflective paper.