Fishbowl with Student-Generated Questions: Algernon and IQ

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SWBAT conduct discussions with their peers about issues related to our current readings

Big Idea

Finally! A chance to ask those burning questions...

Latin Roots Warm Up

10 minutes

This is our daily warm up, wherein students work with two or three Latin roots per day.  The resource that I use to get my roots is Perfection Learning's Everyday Words from Classic Origins.
Every day, when the students arrive, I have two Latin roots on the SmartBoard.  Their job is to generate as many words as they can that contain the roots, and they try to guess what the root means.  After I give them about five minutes, we share words and I tell them what the root means.

The students compile these daily activities in their class journals.  After every twelve roots, they take a test on the roots themselves and a set of words that contains them.

Setting up for Fishbowl

10 minutes

I had students review their notes on the story while I reviewed the questions that we would use.  I pulled up the online stopwatch on my SmartBoard to time the Fishbowl rounds, and I put the questions that I planned to use in a basket.  Finally, I called the first group into the "bowl."


Fishbowl is an activity that can be done in many different ways.  Basically, the concept is that two or more people are in the middle of a circle (fish in the bowl), having a conversation.  The students on the outside are observing the conversation and taking notes.  They give feedback to the "fish" after the round. (I usually ask the students on the outside, "Who was really strong during this round?"  or "Who did the best job connecting to the text?")  The conversation is timed (usually 3-4 minutes) and the students rotate through, taking turns being "fish."

For our Fishbowl, I had students contribute questions that they wanted to discuss.  Ideally, you could put students' questions in a basket and just pull one at random.  Unfortunately, many of the questions were either addressing the same issue or not really "discussion" questions.  This is a problem for this age group, more so than I experienced when I was teaching older kids.  So, I had to be more strategic about how I selected the cards.

The kids, in general, really like Fishbowl.  However, some students find it really stressful.  In every class, there is at least one kid who does not participate at all.  If you have students who tend to stress out about talking in front of the class, you might want to stick to only doing this type of assignment when you can provide the questions ahead of time.

In the past, I have used Fishbowl as an assessment, but it is tricky.  The students have to practice the activity multiple times before it's really fair to use it for a big grade.  Also, you really should provide the questions ahead of time (for example, providing a list of ten questions when you know that only five will be picked.)


Fishbowl Activity

45 minutes

I have large classes, so I opted to have about six kids in the bowl for each round.  This allows for a four-minute round, with feedback following each round.  With transition time and reading time, each round takes about seven minutes.

Here's how it goes:

  • Group is called into the bowl
  • The question is read
  • The timer is set
  • Students talk.  Students on the outside of the circle take notes. 
  • When one minute remains, the students get a verbal warning
  • When time is up, whoever is talking can finish his or her sentence.
  • Note:  There is a "hot seat" option that you can use whereby a student from outside of the bowl can jump into the bowl and quickly add a point, then get out.  This can be very helpful for stalled conversations, or when conversations veer off track.
  • At the end of the round, each student in the bowl gets to choose his or her replacement.


This activity provides an excellent opportunity to practice speaking and listening skills.  I score the round informally by giving a + for a good point and a - for something off topic, incorrect, or something that has already been said.