An Effective Way to Boost Participation in Your Classroom: the Socratic Seminar

Do you feel at times as if your teaching gets into the proverbial rut and your “wagon” is following all of the other “wagons” ahead of it? Then consider adding a new tool to your instructional tool belt that will also ramp up the mojo in your classroom.

Photo courtesy of smarnad |
Photo courtesy of smarnad |

I have been working through the nuances of a Socratic Seminar with my Instructional Techniques class, and I thought it would be helpful to some of you as readers to provide a summary post .

A Socratic Seminar finds its roots in the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates, who would use questions with his students to draw forth answers or incite new thought.

A Socratic seminar is defined as a “collaborative intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text.” If you have never used this type of tool in the classroom, let me summarize it for you from a helpful article.

  • Select a chapter text, article, or even film clip, that you desire to use to add to a student’s perspective. Choose a selection that is going to have a depth of meaning, could take multiple sides, or has some controversy about it. Have the students read/view the selection prior to the beginning of the next class.
  • Arrange desks or chairs in a circle or square so that students can see each other face-to-face.
  • Draft a series of questions that will aid in unpacking the key or core ideas and values that you want highlighted. Begin your seminar with an overarching idea that serves as the “where are we going?” question. And remember, you want questions that are going to create a brainstorming-type dialogue among the participants.

Let me camp for a moment on the questions that you will incorporate, because these will determine the success or failure of your seminar or discussion.

It is helpful to begin with Literal Questions. These are questions right from the text that help give a foundation to the discussion and also identify the level of understanding that your students have with regard to the text.

Next, work into Interpretive Questions. These are questions that would dig into the how or why of what is going on in the text. They are insightful questions that may need arguments or opinions to answer.

In conclusion, it is helpful to end with Evaluative Questions. These questions are answered more from the experiences or opinions of the students. They are the “what are your opinions about this idea?” or “how would this relate to your own experiences?” type inquiries.

You will find that discussion becomes more lively, pushes deeper understanding, and offers more takeaway than just doing a lecture through a reading where you as a teacher work through the main points of an article or chapter. And remember, this is a discussion among the group and not one-on-one responses just with you as the instructor. Make it a group conversation.

If you would like to see some Socratic Seminars in action with creative options, check out the brief videos below:

So take that teaching mojo to a new level and implement a Socratic Seminar into your classroom. Let me know how it works for you!



3 thoughts on “An Effective Way to Boost Participation in Your Classroom: the Socratic Seminar

  1. This event occurred rigt after the time Mario return to the Mushroom Kingdom so it had to take place after gceeecakeded

  2. Aw, this was a very nice post. Spending some time and actual
    effort to make a really good article… but what can I say…
    I put things off a whole lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

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