Socratic Seminar is based on Socrates’ pedagogical approach of asking a series of questions to increase understanding of textual ideas, concepts, and values, as well as understanding of self and others. Each student has the responsibility of preparing open-ended questions and promoting inquiry and discussion. The strategy promotes questioning and examining content understanding and conceptual ideas through multiple perspectives. Students become reflective thinkers and respective of diverse points of view. By focusing on reasoning, perspective, conceptual ideas, and problem solving, students develop habits of mind that support critical thinking. Socratic Seminar is a strategy that works for a variety of texts including informational, literary, and video.
- Choose a central topic or text that is open-ended to provide responses from multiple viewpoints. The strategy can be used as a before, during, and after reading strategy. Whether students are being introduced to new content or discussing familiar content, they should come to the discussion prepared to actively engage in discussion. While reading an assigned text closely, students will extract openended questions from their notes and thoughts. The teacher will model how to ask informed questions about the content in preparation for the strategy.
- Establish a set of norms for students engaging in the strategy. For example, the strategy promotes students engaging with each other, referencing text to support thinking, paraphrasing and probing to deepen understanding, and paying attention to self and others.
- Students will be responsible for preparing open-ended questions prior to the discussion and posing those questions during the discussion to support comprehension of the content. The teacher does not participate in the actual
discussion itself unless necessary to help guide the discussion to pose a question that has not been asked.
- On the day of strategy, invite students to sit either in an inner and outer circle formation or a full circle formation. If in an inner and outer circle formation (i.e., Fish Bowl), only the students in the inner circle are allowed to pose and respond to questions. If in a full circle formation, all students pose and respond to questions. Whichever formation, it is important that students interact with the other circle members with respect and interest in the content discussion.
- If in an inner and outer circle formation, the outer circle should be instructed to use a note-taking strategy to capture key ideas and details heard as part of the discussion and to use a feedback form to provide feedback to peers.
- If in an inner and outer circle formation, students will rotate in and out of the inner circle throughout the discussion. A person in the inner circle may indicate they are ready to transition into the outer circle and vice versa. Monitor accordingly.
- The discussion is over once all students have had the opportunity to participate as both an inquirer and discusser.
- How did the strategy help you in understanding the text?
- What would you do differently next time we engage in a Socratic Seminar?
- What questions do you ask yourself when you are studying this chapter of notes?
- Not all text is weighty enough to lend itself to multiple responses from questions. It is important to pre-read all text and practice the question writing method against it. This will identify any issues that could possibly arise for students when they engage in the independent practice.
- To hold students accountable for close reading and question formulation, the teacher may do a check prior to the seminar to make note of who has and has not prepared for the seminar.
- Providing sentence stems may be helpful when trying to formulate a response to a question that is posed.
- Students on the outer circle may use a rubric or checklist to provide feedback to participants in the inner circle.
- An Anchor Chart with key vocabulary can be a useful resource for students to pull words from as part of relevant content discussions.
After reading a chapter from A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, students are asked to write at least three open-ended questions that ask their peers to analyze how the theme of perseverance is developed via the character, setting, and plot.
After watching the Pixar film Coco in 7th grade Spanish, students are asked to write at least three open-ended questions that ask their peers to analyze the themes of familial responsibility, death, and loss.
HEALTH & PHYSICAL EDUCATION
After students have reviewed mental health websites for youth, students are asked to write at least three open-ended questions that ask their peers to discuss stress management techniques.
After reading an article from a health and fitness magazine, students are asked to write at least three open-ended questions that ask their peers to analyze a person’s body and its energy production.