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This is a long-standing and favourite activity that asks participants to focus on their active listening and observation skills. The name, FISHBOWL, refers to the fact that some participants are active and others just watch them, like fish in a bowl! Ideas for discussion should be identified before this ACTIVITY using TEAM THINK, GENERATOR, or a conventional Brainstorming session.



120 minutes.



Pre-printed A4 cards for Observers, one colour per round of discussions (probably 3 or 4), like this:






Point 1:




Support (seen, heard, people, ideas, etc)
Point 2:




Point 3:




Point 4:




Point 5:







  1. The Facilitator asks the participants to arrange the chairs in two concentric, inward-facing, circles, one inside the other, of equal numbers of chairs.
  2. Each participant is assigned to sit in either the inner or outer circle by the simple method of 1/2, oranges/lemons, A/B, or your favourite style of separating participants.
  3. Each outer circle participant is given an A4 card with the printed OBSERVER grid.
  4. The Facilitator gives out the first topic and asks the OBSERVERS to write it in the “Topic” box on the top right hand side of the card.
  5. The Facilitator tells the inner circle participants that they may now begin discussing the chosen topic.
  6. The role of the OBSERVERS is to record the discussion points, number 1, etc, that emerge in the conversation: for “Support” they should note what evidence the speaker offers; who agrees, either verbally or non-verbally; note any significant non-verbal behaviour (give an example); any interesting ideas.
  7. After 15 minutes, the Facilitator collects in the OBSERVER cards, the participants swap places from outer to inner circles, and the new OBSERVERS are issued a new colour card and the Facilitator announces a new topic. As they collect each batch of cards, the Facilitator posts these on a wall space.
  8. It is recommended that participants should have two turns in conversation and two turns as OBSERVERS.


DISCUSSION (about 45 minutes)

  1. Invite someone to volunteer to start describing their experience of being in the inner circle; then move on to the person on their right and complete for all participants.
  2. Invite someone to volunteer to start describing their experience of being in the outer circle; then move on to the person on their left and complete for all participants.
  3. If necessary, focus their descriptions: “How easy was it being silent?”
  4. “How easy was it to pay attention, to focus?”
  5. “What were the distractions?”
  6. “Was there any difference on the second round of being an OBSERVER?”


EVALUATION (10 minutes)

  1. How did the participants feel writing in silence? Is it more or less useful than talking?
  2. “Is FISHBOWL effective and relevant for the use to which it is put?”



How would the group use this ACTIVITY in the future and would they make changes? Capture, record, circulate.

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