Fishbowls Active Learning - Active Learning

Last updated on 19/08/2019

  • You must be signed in to access this function

    Remove vote



A whole-of-class activity designed to engage students in debating and exploring their ideas about a given topic.

How to implement the strategy

1.  Select one or two topics relating to the content.  The topics could be brief covering a particular concept or more detailed theories.  Alternately, a statement about an issue or a hypothetical scenario could be provided.  
2.  For the first run of this activity, provide students with model questions they should be exploring in-order to discuss the topic effectively.  In subsequent iterations, encourage students to create their own questions. 

In Class Activity 
3.  Divide the class into teams, keeping the number of members in each team between 4-5.  
4.  Each team takes a turn at being in the “fishbowl”, this could be chairs at the front of the class. In the online environment, this activity may work well placing two teams in break-out rooms. 
5.  Distribute your questions so that each team has at least one question to ask.   
6.  Students in the “fishbowl” respond to questions, concerns, ideas, about the given topic from the audience. 
7.  The audience is also encouraged to bring forth counter arguments, clarify ideas and expand discussion.   
8.  After 5-10 minutes, move the activity to a new topic and a new team in the “fishbowl”.  Alternatively, space the debates throughout your session.   

The purpose of the strategy

Fishbowls can be used as a revision activity at the end of a topic or trimester.  The debate-style exercise advances students’ knowledge and comprehension as they respond to questions and participate in discussions.  In addition, students refine their skills in active listening, critical inquiry, professional communication, presentation, and group discussion.   

For an educator, the formative aspect of this strategy is in identifying how well students have grasped the topic in question.  From student responses, you can decide whether they have understood the topic or whether you need to provide additional resources (videos, readings, etc.) and support.   

Read More

Another activity that can be used for revision purposes and is ‘Celebrity Heads’.  

Further Reading

Please note: Both papers have been included to provide educators with a broader perspective on adopting debating as an active learning strategy. 

Lampkin, S. J., Collins, C., Danison, R., & Lewis, M. (2015). Active learning through a debate series in a first-year pharmacy self-care course. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 79(2), 25. doi:10.5688/ajpe79225 

In this study, students undertook debating the topic before the lecture on the same topic was given.  The aim was to identify student biases and prior knowledge.  The study found introducing the debate topic prior to content delivery positively influenced knowledge and skill development for all students taking the course.  

Mellgren, C., Ivert, A., Malmö University, & Faculty of Health and Society. (2016). Criminal policy debate as an active learning strategy. Cogent Education, 3(1) doi:10.1080/2331186X.2016.1184604 

In this paper, the authors examine the use of a criminal policy debate as an active learning strategy, using the student lens as perspective. Their finds show that the debate activity enhanced student learning, critical thinking skills, and challenged student cognitive biases.  

The learning focus of the strategy

  • Authentic Learning
  • Collaborative Learning

Technology that can be used to enhance the strategy

Explore the Tech Ecosytem site for supporting information on implementing Blackborad Collaborate sessions for online learning. 


Class size that is suitable for the strategy

  • 20 - 50 students
  • < 20 students

Activity group size

  • Small group < 10

Year level in which the strategy is often used

  • First year
  • Second year

Discipline area (Academic Group) in which the strategy is often used

  • Arts Education and Law
  • Griffith Business School
  • Griffith Health
  • Griffith Sciences
  • Other Group

Phase of the learning and teaching session in which the strategy will be used

  • Conclusion to the session
  • Introduction to session
  • Main phase of the session

Preparation time for the strategy

  • Less than 10 minutes

Duration of the strategy

  • Less than 10 minutes

Level of learning outcome that the strategy is designed to address

  • Analyse
  • Apply
  • Understand

Learning space appropriate for the strategy

  • Online
  • Seminar room
  • Workshop

Assessment Strategies

  • Formative Assessment

Preferred Citation

Learning Futures (2019). Fishbowls. Retrieved from


© 2023 Griffith University.