Fishbowl Discussion Model

Thanks to Heather Hermann, GED Program Developer, Minnesota Literacy Council, for sharing this activity.  In addition, we invite GED educators to visit a new GED Connect Blog for GED specific resources and information: /educators/ged-2014/ged-connect.

Purpose:  This model, currently being used effectively in local GED programs, is a great way to allow students control of the classroom.  It builds community.  It also encourages active listening and student leadership. 

NOTE: The instructor should take a back seat in this discussion model.  He or she should be available to step in if necessary, but as much as possible, should remain as an observer and not a participant in the conversation.

Prep time: none

Materials: notecards, one for each student

Prep:  none


  1. Before the discussion begins, have students prepare two questions or thoughts about the day’s reading or topic and write them on a note-card.
  2. Students form two concentric circles with their chairs, all facing toward the center.  The inside group will discuss first, while the group around the outside observes.  This is the fishbowl!  Ask students to bring their notecards with them to the circles.
  3. Choose a student facilitator.  This person’s role is to keep the discussion going and to make sure all student voices are heard.
  4. Before the discussion begins, remind students of the fishbowl discussion rules:
  • Students will be responsible for keeping the discussion alive for a full ten minutes.
  • Only students in the inner circle may talk.
  • Students around the outside can’t talk but should take notes about discussion points that spark their interest, raise questions, etc.  These students will have a chance to join the discussion very shortly.
  1. The student facilitator begins the discussion by sharing one of the questions or comments on his or her notecard with the group.
  2. Discuss for ten minutes.  At the end of ten minutes, “open the circle” to allow the outside group to comment. 
  3. Switch the groups.  Those in the middle move to the outside and those who observed the first discussion move to the center.  Repeat the process.
  4. As a wrap-up, divide the students into groups of three or four (try to mix the circles).  Ask them what one thing they will take away from the day’s discussion.  Have students share their answers with the others in their small group.
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