Socratic Seminar Teaching Strategy

Teachers are always looking for fresh ideas to help with lesson planning. Use the Socratic seminar teaching strategy to add to your lessons.

As teachers were are always looking for new teaching strategies to keep our lessons fresh and engaging. Below is a brief summary of the Socratic seminar teaching strategy.

How Does The Socratic Seminar Teaching Strategy Work?

  • Begin by choosing a text. The text should be open to interpretation (so that there is something to discuss) and that it is an appropriate length (something that can be closely read and analyzed in the time that you are providing).  Be sure that all students have a copy of the text that they can refer back to and somewhere to make notes as they read.
  • List and/or review words that can help students get started analyzing the text.  A big list of words displayed somewhere in the classroom (i.e. infers, represents, symbolizes, parallels, etc.) can be helpful to students.  
  • Have students read/reread and analyze their text.  They should prepare a couple of analysis questions for their classmates.  Remind students that questions should be open-ended and discussion provoking. It may be useful to have students respond in writing to their own questions before the discussion.  
  • Begin class discussion. In the beginning, you may want to act as the initial discussion leader to get the ball rolling, but as the discussion moves on, students can and should move into this role, posing questions for their classmates. As the year progresses and your students become more practiced at Socratic Seminars, this method will become an exclusively student-led activity. Remind students of several things:
      • There are no right and wrong answers.  Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions, but all opinions should be supported with textual evidence.
      • Questions can be responded to with statements and ideas as well as new questions.
      • Students should pay attention to making sure that everyone is getting a chance to talk.
      • Silence is okay. Often students need a few moments to think about a question and to warm up to the discussion style.

When the allotted discussion time is over, it can be helpful to have students evaluate how the Socratic Seminar went–what went well and not so well, what should be done differently if doing it again, etc.

How Do I Use This Strategy?

  1. Socratic Seminar is a great technique to use for literary discussion.  Not only is the open-ended questioning style perfect for discussing meaning, symbolism, message, etc., but it also encourages student-directed and student-led discussions.  
  2. Socratic Seminar is also a wonderful teaching strategy when studying history, especially how we view, understand, and think about historical documents, events, and opinions.

Why Do I Love This Strategy?

  1. Once the students get the hang of the discussion style, the Socratic Seminar can be used very effectively in a small-group format so that many more students can participate much more fully in the conversations.
  2. Socratic Seminar gets students to look at material from many different angles and analyze, defend, and even reconsider opinions and understandings that they have formed.

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