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Students can learn a great deal about a topic--and about discussion itself--by carefully observing their peers during discussion. Watching one's peers draw inferences, provide evidence, make assumptions, and so on can make the process of analyzing an argument more real and engaging.
We all want students to carry our teachings into their lives. Often, however, we must make our intentions very plain for students to understand that an assignment will equip them with skills and empower them, and is not an arbitrary hoop through which they must jump.
For this reason, frame each activity using these four steps:
In this activity, students are separated into two groups, with one group discussing a question or issue provided by the instructor "in the fishbowl” and the other students observing the discussion. In large classes, you can choose a small group to be in the fishbowl at the front of the room.
Students should have advanced notice about the fishbowl activity, so they can be sure to prepare, and students observing must be assigned some task, or they will have no reason to pay attention. A common task to give observers is to watch for assumptions that are being made by the fishbowl participants, or to track what kinds of "functional roles" are being played in the discussion. For this activity, it is important to prepare observers by providing them with a description of functional roles and how to look for them. Follow-up discussion should be based mostly upon what the observers saw, rather than what the actual fishbowl participants experienced.
A common task to give students in the fishbowl is a problem-solving task requiring them to come to consensus on a solution or position. Of course, a case related to your course content is the most appropriate, but when the topic is less important than the discussion itself, "survival Scenarios" are quite popular for this, like this alpine survival exercise.
Some teachers include an empty chair in the fishbowl circle, so that if an observing student feels they absolutely must make a comment, they can move into the empty chair, make their comment, then return to their seat.
Some teachers have students rotate in groups through "the fishbowl," either picking up the same topic of conversation where the last group left off, or discussing what they observed in the other group"s conversation, or starting with a new topic.