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Meaningful Talk Part 4: Fishbowl discussion

This version of Socratic seminar gets students generating questions and driving discussion

If you’ve been following this series, you know we have explored how to use reciprocal teaching, conversation roundtable, and pinwheel discussion to encourage and support student speaking and listening while also incorporating reading and writing. Last week, we focused on pinwheel discussions, which are a great scaffold for our focus strategy today – fishbowl. While the pinwheel discussion is driven by the teacher, the fishbowl is driven by the students.

So let’s review where we are. Students have read “The Most Dangerous Game,” Hatchet, and an excerpt from Into the Wild. They have been working with these texts and have already analyzed and discussed all three texts. In the last pinwheel discussion, the students discussed theme.

For today’s lesson, students will again be discussing theme – with a focus on survival. They will delve into this theme using the fishbowl.

The basic premise

There are two groups of students – the inner circle and the outer circle. The outer circle’s job is to listen and take notes. They might also ask questions of the inner circle after the inner circle completes their discussion. The inner circle will discuss the topic or theme. A student or two will be tasked with driving the discussion by posing questions, etc. Of course, the teacher is always there to scaffold if necessary.

Fishbowl lesson


Students are asked to review their theme notes from the pinwheel discussion

Learning intention

Students will discuss theme and provide text evidence and explanation for their assertions.

Success criteria

  • Students will ask and answer questions while in the inner circle (based on discussion rubric)

  • Students will take notes on discussion to be used for essay revision

  • Students will use notes and discussion to help them hone their essay drafts

Previous work

Students have previously been given time to develop questions. They have also been working on their drafts. They are writing an essay identifying and supporting the common theme of the three works.

Fishbowl set up

There are two groups. They are organized into an inner and outer circle. The inner circle begins their discussion. While they discuss, the outer circle takes notes. When the inner circle wraps up, the outer circle can be given an opportunity to ask a few questions. Then the group switches and repeats the same protocol.

The teacher can lead a brief whole group discussion or draw students’ attention to something they might have missed in the fishbowl.

Wrap up

The teacher asks students to revisit their rough drafts. Do they need to re-evaluate their thesis statements? This will be the subject of tomorrow’s writing workshop.


It will be important for students to know what will be expected of them in this protocol. A rubric is useful for this, as well as assessment of the fishbowl. The rubric can be developed as a class, so students have ownership of what the discussion will look like. How many times do they need to respond? What do their responses need to include? Will students need to both challenge and defend a position? How many questions will they need to generate? What is the individual versus group responsibility?

So what did they do?

  • Read: they had to re-read the texts in order to prepare for the fishbowl

  • Write: students will continue to work on their drafts as well as take notes

  • Speak: students ask and respond to questions

  • Listen: students must listen to respond and take notes

  • Think: students are analyzing the texts and evaluating their own writing

The following 7th grade TEKS were addressed in this lesson:

  • 7.5B - Generate questions about text before, during, and after reading to deepen understanding and gain information.

  • 7.5F - Make inferences and use evidence to support understanding.

  • 7.5G - Evaluate details read to determine key ideas.

  • 7.5H - Synthesize information to create new understanding.

  • 7.6C - Use text evidence to support an appropriate response.

  • 7.6E - Interact with sources in meaningful ways such as notetaking, annotating, freewriting, or illustrating.

  • 7.6G - Discuss and write about the explicit or implicit meanings of text

  • 7.6H - Respond orally or in writing with appropriate register, vocabulary, tone, and voice.

  • 7.7A - Infer multiple themes within and across texts using text evidence.

  • 7.8A - Demonstrate knowledge of literary genres such as realistic fiction, adventure stories, historical fiction, mysteries, humor, myths, fantasy, and science fiction.

  • 7.11B - Compose informational texts, including multi-paragraph essays that convey information about a topic, using a clear controlling idea or thesis statement and genre characteristics and craft.

And we’re still not done! More lesson ideas coming next week!

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