Conversational Fishbowl

Students choose a question (from a list such as opens in a new window this one ) to discuss in order to become more comfortable talking in a discussion format. Instructional focus should be on learners speaking one at a time and listening to respond or add to the topic.


R2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. (Apply this standard to texts of appropriate complexity as outlined by Standard 10.)


Estimated timeframe:

Activity steps

  1. Before class, choose one or more discussion questions for the opens in a new window fishbowl or print a list of question choices for students. You may want to select from this list of “Have you ever …?” questions from the Internet TESL Journal archive: opens in a new window Depending on how familiar students are with American conversational norms and with speaking and listening activities, you may want to review some communication basics (such as speaking clearly, asking for clarification or for more information, and turn taking) before the fishbowl.
  2. To begin the activity, choose students for the fishbowl’s inner circle. You may want to ask for volunteers (this could even be done during an earlier class period or before class starts), or you may want to choose students who are confident or have higher level speaking skills for the inner circle. Have the rest of the class form the outer circle. Ask them to listen to the inner circle’s discussion: they should pay attention to how the speakers alternate and how they respond or add on to each other’s responses.
  3. Select or assign the discussion question(s), and let the inner circle respond. The discussion should be brief enough to keep the outer circle engaged (less than 10 minutes).
  4. Thank the inner circle speakers and have them join the outer circle. Lead the whole class in a discussion of the conversation: What did the listeners notice? Was it difficult to stay quiet and listen? What were the speakers thinking about? What did they learn about the topic and about their classmates? If the group noticed any awkward silences, frequent interruptions, or overly dominant speakers, how could the group have handled or prevented those issues?
  5. Variations include:
    • Instead of a fishbowl, have students ask and answer the conversation starter questions in pairs. For additional speaking practice (and to encourage listening), “square the pair” by having pairs report out to another group: each learner should summarize their partner’s answers.
    • Connect the fishbowl discussion to reading passages or multimedia that learners have studied on a science, social studies, or other relevant topic. Be sure students distinguish between facts, the authors’ opinions, and their own opinions as they discuss the text(s).
    • Hold a mock interview fishbowl, with learners asking and answering frequently-asked job interview questions. Encourage the class to discuss how well the students role-playing job candidates answered the questions and how well they modeled interview-appropriate body language.

Workforce readiness skills

opens in a new window External Resources
ELA Activities for Level A
Finding the Main Idea, Getting to Work on Time
Students at A level will be introduced to finding a main idea through pictures, and students with reading levels as low as first-grade equivalent will read a passage, retell it, and determine the main idea. Extension activities include practicing time management skills, including filling out a timesheet Read More Finding the Main Idea, Getting to Work on Time
Guest Speaker
Invite an informative guest speaker to class (or ask a student to speak to classmates about an area of expertise). Before the visit, have students plan the questions they will ask; during the visit, encourage students to ask follow-up questions. Read More Guest Speaker
The Affix Garden
Students manipulate shapes (flower=prefix, stem=root word, suffix=leaf) to learn about affixes and create words. Read More The Affix Garden
Understanding the Dyslexic Mind
In Part 1, students listen to a radio interview with a dyslexic journalist and answer questions about the details. In Part 2, students listen and read along to a radio piece about successful dyslexics. Students answer questions found in the reading. In Part 3, students analyze a graph showing the divergence of IQ and reading ability in dyslexics. Read More Understanding the Dyslexic Mind
Workplace Safety Presentations
Students read and listen to texts related to workplace safety. Then, students create their own multimedia presentations synthesizing the workplace safety lessons learned. Read More Workplace Safety Presentations
More Activities