Fishbowl Discussions using Newsela for Elementary Students

Peers listen to and provide feedback to their partners as they listen to a text-based discussion
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3 Keys to a Successful Fishbowl Discussion

About This Strategy

A Fishbowl discussion is a conversational strategy where students not only practice the art of active discussion, but they also practice active listening and note taking skills. After reading a Newsela article around a common theme, students take turns participating in a structured small group discussion while their peers observe the conversation and take notes about what is being discussed. After the discussion, students share their observations with each other and set personalized goals to improve individual and whole class discussion skills for the next fishbowl discussion.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Choose a Newsela article or Text Set which will allow for multiple perspectives or opinions. Questions to consider include:

    • Will all students benefit from reading the same article?

    • Could assigning multiple articles in a Text Set allow for a broader discussion?

  2. Read the article or articles in the Text Set and decide on a topic or theme that students will discuss.

  3. Develop a set of questions based on not only the article itself but also the broader theme. For example, if students read the article Issue Overview: Should students have to wear school uniforms, questions can be developed based directly on the content of the article, but can also be developed around the theme of school dress codes, culturally appropriate clothing, and the ability to choose clothing. When writing discussion questions, consider these suggestions:

    • Questions should be open-ended.

    • Questions should range from broad discussion questions to get the conversation started to deeper-thinking questions.

  4. Divide students into groups of 4-6 students to engage in fishbowl discussions with each other. Though each student will bring their own perspective to the discussion, groups can benefit from students with a range of abilities as well as a mixture of more-talkative and less-talkative students. Keep the number of students in the first fishbowl discussion to less than 6 so that every student has an opportunity to engage in the discussion.

  5. Decide if all students are going to answer the same questions or if groups will rotate questions

    • Would students benefit from listening to and answering the same questions?

    • Would students benefit from creating some of their own questions as they are reading the article?

Student Preparation:

  1. Assign the Newsela article or Text Set to students.

  2. Share the topic of discussion with students.

  3. Go over the general format of a Fishbowl discussion so students know the purpose for which they are reading.

    • Students will read their assigned article.

    • While they are reading, they will take notes.

    • Students will be put into groups of 4-6.

    • Each group will have their turn in the fishbowl.

      • While a group is in the fishbowl, they will have a small group discussion based on the article.

      • While a group is out of the fishbowl, they will take notes on the conversation happening in the fishbowl.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students read their assigned Newsela article.

  2. While reading, ask students to make the following annotations:

    • BLUE - Things they connect with personally

    • GREEN - Points they agree with and want to bring up during the discussion

    • YELLOW - Anything that makes them pause and think

    • RED - Points they disagree with and want to bring up during the discussion

      • PRO users can annotate directly within the Newsela article.

      • Non-PRO users can either print off the article and annotate with colored writing utensils or make notes on the Fishbowl Discussion Annotations graphic organizer.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Arrange chairs in a circle around the room with five or six chairs in a circle in the center. See the diagram below.

  2. Put students into groups of 5-6.

  3. Choose one group to start, and give them the discussion questions. This group will sit in the chairs in the center of the circle. The other students will be given the note taking sheet and sit in the outer circle.

  4. The teacher will ask one question to begin the discussion. Each person in the center circle will take the opportunity to answer the question.

  5. After the initial question, students in the center circle will facilitate the discussion based on the suggested questions and points they annotated while they were reading.

    • If there is a lull in the conversation, the teacher will ask a question to get the conversation going again.

    • During the conversation, students in the outer circle will take notes about the discussion. On the note-taking sheet they will record the names of each of the speakers. Underneath each speaker's name they will record the points that person says they agree with, the points they disagree with, and things that were said they have questions about.

  6. After a set amount of time, the five students will join the outer circle and five new students will join the inner circle.

    • The same questions can be used with the second group if the discussion could go further.

    • The second discussion can also be based on the questions recorded during the first discussion.

    • This process will be repeated until each student has had a chance to be in the inner circle.

  7. Once every student has participated in the Fishbowl discussion, the teacher will lead a wrap-up of the conversation. The wrap-up should include common themes students noticed, what questions they have that went unanswered, how the discussion went, and how it can go better.

  8. Finally, students will self-assess their involvement in the fishbowl discussion using the rubric below. As part of the rubric, students will identify one thing they can improve upon during the next fishbowl discussion.  

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

Oh, Hello: How We Communicate & Why Words Matter

  • Grade Level: 2-8
  • Content Area: ELA  

Competitive Sports - The Art of Argument

  • Grade Level: 3-8
  • Content Area: General Education

Issue Overview: Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?

  • Grade Level: 3-8
  • Content Area: General Education

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the resource linked below from We Are Teachers was consulted.