Classroom Practices 2: Fishbowl Discussion
The first activity I wrote about was “gallery walk” to increase interaction in the classroom. Another technique which I’d like to share with you is “fishbowl discussion” because I strongly believe that it fosters interaction in the classroom and can easily be used to create medium to large group discussions. In a fishbowl discussion, students are divided into groups based on the total number of the students in the classroom. The students in each group are seated in circles. There is an inner and an outer circle. The students who are seated in the inner circle ask questions and share their opinions with each other. The students who are in the outer circle listen carefully to the ideas presented by the students in the inner circle. A time limit is set for the students in the fishbowl (the inner circle). At the end of the period of time given to the students, the students change their roles. That is, the students in the inner circle are seated in the outer circle, and the students in the outer circle are seated in the inner circle. Students can only contribute to the discussion if they move to the inner circle, so all conversation takes place in the fishbowl. After practising their roles, the students go back to their seats and a whole class student discussion is held.
There can be some variations in the activity. I often use two types of it: open fishbowl and closed fishbowl. In an open fishbowl, one seat is empty in the inner circle so that a student in the outer circle can occupy the chair and join the inner circle discussion whenever s/he wants. However, in a closed fishbowl, no chairs are empty and groups change completely at the end of the time given for discussion. That is, when time runs out, a group of students leaves the fishbowl and a new group from the outer circle enters the fishbowl. A student can be the moderator and introduce the topic of the discussion, or the teacher can give the topic and start the discussion. Fishbowl technique is a good way to make all students in the classroom participate in a discussion. All students are both contributors and listeners, and there is a continuous flow of ideas. Thus, classroom discussions are more effective and enjoyable for students.
Fishbowl is an engaging and student-centered strategy which is suitable for all ages, so it can be considered as a good alternative to the traditional debate because it fosters dynamic participation. I think one of the most important advantages of the technique is that it provides an equal opportunity to each student without being interrupted which is very difficult to do in a traditional whole class discussion. Students can freely state their opinions on the topic, and also it makes the students better listeners.
It can be used as a speaking activity, and it works well while discussing controversial topics. It also makes for an excellent pre-writing activity to brainstorm new ideas, or it can be used as a pre-reading activity to activate learners’ schemata. The technique can be used in many other ways. However, there are some points to take into consideration while applying it. Firstly, the topic of the discussion must be engaging for students. No matter which technique is used, if you choose a boring topic, it doesn’t work well. The topics must be challenging for students and broad enough to talk about. Secondly, before the activity, it may be a good idea to arrange the groups. Because the students in the inner group start the conversation, they must be chosen carefully. Last but not least, all students should participate in the discussion equally. The moderator must be careful about the balance in the time students are speaking.
I sometimes use the technique in my classes. Especially, I use it to make my students take part in discussions on controversial topics. Although they are unwilling to speak when I ask them questions in whole class discussions, they get motivated when they work in groups. I choose high-achievers for the inner circle to encourage less motivated students. Thus, they listen to the others first, get some ideas and take notes. Then, they speak. They are more confident and more ready to speak and share their ideas. Based on my experience I believe that the technique works well when organized carefully.