The Fish Bowl

I use a lesson format I call the fish bowl. Really, it’s a modified Socratic Seminar except that every student is not required to be an active speaking participant.

I have 8-9 students circle up in the middle of the room with their notebooks and texts while the rest of the students make a circle of 8-9 desks, the fish bowl. Everyone outside the fish bowl must silently observe and take notes as the discussion ensues. Those inside the fish bowl discuss the given literature and can take notes while those feeling shy can remain quiet for the day.

At the end of the period the observers, while the fish bowl participants reset the classroom, must write down 2-3 ideas new to them or 2-3 ideas which resonated with them. Following this, they support or refute a point made in the fish bowl. This is their “exit ticket.” Without it, they may not exit the room.

I do rotate students into and out of the fish bowl because students earn participation credit for being in the fish bowl.

Also, most of the time I stay out of the fish bowl and wander through the observers making sure they are taking notes and paying attention. Today I sat in the fish bowl and had a blast speaking as an equal about the short story by Hemingway, “Soldier’s Home.”

It’s a fun way to discuss literature!

By the way, I started the day by explaining the Iceberg theory (popularized by Hemingway’s stories) which states that his stories only reveal to the audience 20% of the tale while the other 80% hides beneath the surface. First, I showed the class a picture of an iceberg and had them create a list of everything they knew about icebergs, and then we shared the findings. Afterwards, I explained the theory while keeping a picture of an iceberg on the screen that reveals the underwater portion of the iceberg. Of course, a few students mentioned that the vast majority of an iceberg is hidden from immediate view, so this leads easily into the theory’s explanation.

9 thoughts on “The Fish Bowl

  1. Clix

    They don’t get to leave without turning it in? How much time do you give them for this? If they think they might be late to their next class, do you write a pass for them? What if they attempt to walk out?

    Our administration wants us to do exit tickets, but I don’t see us getting any actual support for it being anything other than an ungraded classwork. *sigh*

  2. Rose

    I’ve actually been playing around with similar ideas with foreign language teaching, so I was happy to read your description of how you do it. Not only a good way to encourage dialogue between students, it can be valuable in advanced foreign language classes for sustained target language use.

    Thanks for sharing!

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