Through the Fishbowl – A technique for group work in City’s large Learning Spaces

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Have you got a group of students in a large lecture theatre but find engaging them difficult?? Teaching in a large lecture theatre doesn’t have to exclude group work and engagement. Take a look at the group work suggestions in our series of blog posts. We recommend booking City’s new Learning Spaces to run these activities.


The Fishbowl technique is good for quite large groups of between ten and thirty students and involves a group of about half a dozen students located in the middle of a larger circle of students. The groups in the middle are given a simple discussion task, The larger circle of students act as observers and listen to the students in the middle. The middle group swaps with the larger circle after a set time, giving everyone the chance to discuss and observe.

Why? This approach is a great way to encourage quieter members of a large group to participate in a discussion and to manage the more dominant students interactions. ’ Being involved in this way can help all students to engage with the topic and gain a deeper understanding of the topic.

Technique: Ask some simple questions about the course / module so that the middle circle will be able to start off a discussion. After a set time, ask half a dozen of the outer circle to replace the inner circle, continue until everyone has been in the inner circle. Fishbowls can be a good way of getting students from buzz groups to feedback.

Two Fishbowls with gold fishes in

The ‘fishbowl’ is just a metaphor


  • To aid the selection of the middle discussion group, a ‘tag’ version of this could be introduced so that those in the outer circle can tap the shoulders of the inner group and swap.

  • Students in the outer circle may find it difficult to focus on the students in the middle. It can therefore be effective to give the observing students a specific active listening task to do. For example, identify three key issues or conclusions from the inner group. When the groups swap around, the conclusions identified by the first group can be evaluated.

Online suggestion: You can practice this technique using a module discussion forum , a wiki or using Adobe Connect. Skype (now free for up to 10 people) can also be used for groups in video chats before trying  the technique in a face to face setting.

This activity can be tried in several of our learning spaces including : BLG07, C308, C309 and ELG02 (opening October 2014) which all have fixed swivel seating.

For more ideas on group work activities in flexible learning spaces visit


This blog draws on the following works:

Surgenor, P. (2010) Teaching Toolkit in UCD Teaching and Learning Resources [online] Available from:  [Accessed 14.08.14]

Douglas, K. (2007). Mediation “Fishbowl”. Available from: [Accessed 14.08.14]

Annenberg Learner. (2014). Teaching Strategies: Fishbowl. Available from: [Accessed 14.08.14]

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