Tweaking My Socratic Seminar Approach - Room 213

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Tweaking My Socratic Seminar Approach

I'm going to admit, although I love the idea of the Socratic seminar, I have not felt really successful with teaching my students how to do them.  In the past, most have been boring and stilted, as students mechanically did what they were asked to do, with little engagement in the discussion.  

So, this time, I'm giving them a little more guidance in the hopes that I get more lively discussion about the novel.  We are studying A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, and I want the students to take control of their learning without me telling them what they need to think with teacher directed questions.  I will be dividing my class into five groups, and each group will be responsible for two chapters from the novel. They will be expected to do a close reading of their chapters and then prepare questions for their group mates that will test their understanding of the novel.  My hope is that lively discussion will ensue rather than: question... pause... reluctant answer... question. YAWN.

I've learned the hard way that unless I model what I expect (lively discussion in this case), I won't get what I want.  So tomorrow I will lead the discussion of the first chapter, assisted by several of my most keen students.  I will show them what good questions look like, as well as what to do to get someone to elaborate on a less than stellar answer, and how to encourage everyone to talk.

In the past, I instructed students to come with a list of questions only.  This time, I'm giving them the graphic organizer below.  With it, they have to think about why their question is a good one and have an answer to it as well.The biggest change I have made, however, is the section at the bottom.They will need to be ready to prompt their group mates if they don't provide a full answer.  Ultimately, I want them to see that it's not just enough to ask the question and then just move on if they don't get a good response.  I want them to take on the responsibility of guiding their classmates to find the answer.  

I'm also providing them with the following:

Sample questions to move the discussion along:
Who has a different perspective?
Can anyone add anything to that?
Does anyone disagree?
Where do you find evidence for that in the text? 
Do you have an example of that?
Can you explain what you mean by that?
How does that connect to what (someone else) said?
Has anyone changed his/her mind after what (someone) said?
Would anyone else like a chance to speak?

My plan is to model some of these questions tomorrow when the discussion inevitably wanes.  I'm excited to see if my tweaks bring about some changes.  I'll keep you posted!


  1. Great ideas! This will really push student-led discussion even further. This post needs a part two, of course, with your results. ;) Best, -Danielle @ Nouvelle

  2. This is great! It's so important for us to remember to model and scaffold for our students until they develop the habits we want to see!

  3. Re-reading this post because I want to use Socratic seminar with the novel we're reading in my ENG 1010 courses this fall.


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