Socratic Seminars

Have you ever held a Socratic Seminar?

A Socratic Seminar is basically a critical thinking discussion group that allows students the air time to share their views about different thought processes, values, perspectives and backgrounds in a safe way.

Also known as Socratic Dialogue, this group discussion is rooted in the conversations the Greek philosopher Socrates (470–399 BC) had with his pupils.

They help students help one another understand a range of ideas and issues and through this type of group discussion, they learn how to listen to one another, make meaning and potentially find common ground.

The goal of the Socratic method is to help students process information and engage in deeper understanding of topics.

Socratic Seminars therefore promote communication, respect and teamwork and in many respects can be seen as a sort of group therapy.

In a Socratic discussion, teachers use open-ended questions about texts and encourage their students to use textual evidence to support their opinions and answers. Discussions that grow out of these starting points are skilfully scaffolded and teachers use questions to guide discussion around specific learning goals.

The Socratic method has lots of support because it offers plenty of opportunities for student voice, they help to ‘professionalise’ discourse and build close listening skills. They can, in lots of cases, support conflict resolution.

The language used in a Socratic activity is all-important and so it’s worth sharing some “How to reply” ideas so that it a truly student-led discussion and not something a teacher dominates.

For example, here are some possible starting points to help scaffold a response:

  1. I agree with ……….’s thinking on this because ……
  2. I diasgree with ………’s thinking about this because ……
  3. I see another possibility perhaps worthy of consideration and that is ……
  4. To summarise, if I’ve heard you correctly then what you are saying is …..
  5. I think another way of approaching this problem is ……
  6. ………’s response isn’t something that quite makes sense to me because….
  7. If what ……….. says is right then the next step would be to think……
  8.  To add a little more to what ………. has said, I’d say that ……..
  9. I interpret the text differently because I think …….
  10. One perspective I believe is missing from our discussion is ……
  11. I think the weakness in that argument is …..
  12. I think in order to reach a more rounded conclusion, I think we would need to include thoughts about ….
  13. I think we can infer from the text ….
  14. If we are playing Devil’s advocate for the moment, I think an alternative response would be to say …..
  15. The opposing view to ……..’s thinking would be ……..
  16. I don’t think there is enough evidence to draw a conclusion because ……..
  17. What would happen if we put our views to one side and considered ……
  18. What if you were from a different culture? Would you still take the same position?
  19. To what extent can you attribute your position on this to the viewpoints of your family members?
  20. I know that my viewpoint might be in the minority but I think we are failing to consider ………
  21. What if someone responded to you and said ……?
  22. Have you thought about ……..?


For Socratic Seminar guidelines then take a look here.

Matt Bromley discusses the teacher’s role in using the six Socratic questions and looks at Socratic seminars in lessons.

Using the “Socratic Seminar” to improve classroom discussion from Tarr’s Toolbox

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