Socratic Seminar

Literature Circles, Class Discussions

A Socratic Seminar is a student-led discussion centered around a single piece of content (e.g., a poem, a movie, etc.) While both a traditional debate and socratic seminar elicit potentially differing views on a topic, a socratic seminar is not a debate. Rather than being competitive in nature like a debate, a socratic seminar is collaborative. Students collectively gain a deeper understanding by thoughtfully asking and answering questions and actively listening to one another. Teachers do not directly lead the conversation; instead, they serve as a facilitator who supports the students in being mindful of the group norms and keeping the conversation moving and relevant to the content. Socratic Seminars are an opportunity for students to expand and explore upon their own knowledge, beliefs, and expectations by finding strengths and values in their peers’ differing perspectives. Essential Elements of Socratic Seminars
* Group Norms: Teacher facilitates student-led identification of rules and expectations for Socratic Seminars.
* Specific Content: Teacher or student selects one piece of content as the topic for the Socratic Seminar.
* Questions: Open-ended and range from main ideas to analysis to personal experiences as they relate to the content.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Sentence Frames

Discussion Sentence Frames

A collection of sentence starters to help students frame their thoughts, questions, and analyses in a respectful but meaningful way.

Grade 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · English Language Arts, Language, Listening, Speaking · 2 pages

Implementation Tips

This strategy should not be used for debate purposes. While debates focus on an individual student or group identifying the most “correct” answer to a question, Socratic Seminars are an opportunity for inquiry-based learning where students come to a collectively deeper understanding of a common text or experience.
Selecting Content
When possible, to increase student engagement, students should be given an opportunity to select the content that will be discussed. In order to ensure that the required content is covered, teachers can give students a list of options from which to choose. Content can include text, videos, guest speakers, etc.
Helping Students Prepare
Have students prepare for the Socratic Seminar by completing a pre-seminar graphic organizer that will help them organize their thoughts and analyses.
During the Discussion
Provide [[|Sentence Starters]] to assist students in framing questions and comments thoughtfully. Giving students examples of how to frame their responses allows them more time and opportunity to focus on the content. With practice, students will become more independent in developing their thoughts into responses.
Student Reflection
Have students complete a self-reflection that includes questions about the Socratic Seminar process as well as any new ideas and deeper understandings of the content that they have taken away from the discussion.
Multiple Forms of Expression
Teachers can use online tools to support students who have auditory or oral needs or who may struggle with public speaking. [[|Today's Meet]] is a free tool that allows a teacher to set up a virtual discussion that students can chat into using their phones or a computer. Projecting the screen allows the entire class to view all of the messages posted while simultaneously participating in the live discussion.
More Resources
For more Socratic Seminar activities and resources visit: [[|]]


Literature Circle
After reading a specific piece of text, have students arrange themselves into a circle (e.g., seated on the floor, rearranging student desks/tables, etc.). At the beginning of each Socratic Seminar, teachers should review the group norms and expectations. Questions during the discussion should range from literal and text-based (e.g., "How do the two characters in the text live differently? Give examples.") to interpretive and evaluative (e.g., "Who do you think lives a better life? Why?") The final questions should be centered around students' evaluation of the text based on their own personal experiences (e.g., "Do you have traditions that are different from your friends? Describe your experience.") End the activity by having students debrief by sharing new perspectives or deeper understandings that arose through the Socratic Seminar (e.g., "At first I thought... but, now I think...") Visit this [[|link]] for example questions and more information.
Math Discussion
Socratic Seminars can be used in math to engage in a discussion about the problem solving process. For example, have small groups examine a real-world problem (e.g., "What is the best phone plan for your budget?"). Prior to the seminar, students can complete a [[|graphic organizer]] to identify all of the known and unknown variables and potential problem solving strategies. Then, as a group, students can respond to fact-based questions (e.g., "What is the problem?", "What are some things we want to know?"), followed by how they would solve the math problem. Students should be encouraged to ask follow-up questions to their peers' responses (e.g.,"Could you tell me more about how you created your equation?") End this type of circle by asking deeper, more personalized questions such as, "Have you or a family member ever went over your phone plan? What happened afterward?" and "Are cellphones as important as food, clothing, and shelter? Why or why not?"
If you have a large class, arrange classroom desks with an inner and outer circle. Pair students with a partner and have one student sit in the inner circle and engage in the discussion while the other sits in the outer circle and silently observes. While observing, outer-circle students can complete a peer observation sheet focused on Socratic Seminar academic and behavioral expectations. After a set amount of time, have the students switch places and roles. Although the new inner-circle will answer the same questions, the student-led discussion may lead down a different path than the first.

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