Socratic Seminar

In a Socratic Seminar,participants seek deeper understanding of complex ideas through rigorously thoughtful dialogue.

  • A Socratic Seminar fosters active learning as participants explore and evaluate the ideas, issues, and values in a particular text.
  • Successful Socratic Seminars are dependent upon groups of students developing skills together over time.

Tips for implementinga Socratic Seminar:

  • Use Philosophical Chairs to develop students' skill before beginning Socratic Seminar.
  • Select a short text.
  • Read the text aloud in class first; then have students read it again silently.
  • Model the way to mark the text. Show them how to mark important parts, ask questions in the margins, and summarize ideas.
  • Model the way to write questions about the text. Share questions.
  • Give the students class time to prepare for the Socratic Seminar.
  • Establish norms or guidelines for behavior before youbegin.

Make sure studentsunderstand the four elements of Socratic Seminar:

  1. The Text: Socratic Seminar texts are chosen for their richness in ideas and their ability to stimulate thoughtful discussion. A good text raises questions in the participants' minds.
  2. The Questions: A Socratic Seminar opens with a question either posed by the leader or taken from participants as they become more experienced. The opening question stimulates a discussion and takes participants back to the text as they generate more questions and responses.
  3. The Leader: The Leader is both leader and participant. The leader knows the text well, can keep the discussion focused on the text and energized, and can involve reluctant participants. He allows participants' understandings to evolve.
  4. The Participants: Good seminars occur when the participants study the text closely in advance, listen, share, ask questions,and use evidence to support what they say. Participants acquire good seminar behaviors through participating in seminars and reflecting on them afterward.

Facilitating theSocratic Seminar

A Socratic Seminar can be conducted as one group/whole class OR it can be conducted in a fishbowl with an inner and outer circle.

  • Outer circle participants can be asked to take notes on what the inner circle is saying or to keep track of how often and how well students participate.

As students build their expertise, they can meet in Socratic Circles, groups of four or five students who discuss a piece of text on theirown.

In the beginning, Socratic Seminars should last no longerthan 15 - 20 minutes.

Ground Rules for Socratic Seminar

  1. Read the text carefully.
  2. Take notes as you read. Underline important ideas and annotate your text.

  3. Use accountable talk terms to make the discussion flow more smoothly.
  4. Accountable talk terms let the speaker know that you have heard what he/she has to say, andit lets the participants know that you have something worthwhile to say.

  5. Listen to what others say. Do not interrupt.
  6. When you listen carefully, you can learn and you are better able to continue a discussion.

  7. Speak clearly.
  8. For others to respond to your opinions, everyone must be able to hear andunderstand you.

  9. Give others your respect.
  10. A discussion is a cooperative exchange of ideas and not an argument or adebate. During a discussion you can learn from the opinions and ideas of others.

  11. Refer to the text to support what you say.
  12. Support what you say by going back to the text. Guide the participants to the places in the text that support your interpretation.

  13. Open your mind.

Come to a Socratic seminar with the idea of sharing information. Come with the idea that you might learn something.

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