Socratic Seminars in English Class
- Grades: 9–12
- Respond verbally to open-ended questions
- Exhibit and hone active listening skills
- Text-based open-ended questions
- Slips of paper
- Critical Literacy: Enhancing Students' Comprehension of Text by Maureen McLaughlin & Glenn L. DeVoogd
This book is good for creating open-ended questions for the discussion. And it helps students of any age make connections between the text and their own experiences of the world.
Set Up and Prepare
1. Form two concentric circles with the desks in your room (one circle inside the other).
Step 1: Explain that Socratic Seminars are question-driven discussions, named after the great philosopher, Socrates, who used questions to teach his students. In these discussions people don't talk over one another; they listen to each other's comments respectfully; they don't attack anyone's opinions and they agree to disagree.
Step 2: Split students into two groups. Group A should sit in the inner circle and Group B should sit in the outer circle.
Step 3: Assign each person in Group B to a person in Group A. The Group B students should sit across from their partners in Group A so that they can keep track of their partners' comments and responses. At the end of the seminar the Group B students will give their partners feedback and constructive criticism about their participation in the discussion.
Step 4: Pass out at least three strips of paper to each Group A person, and instruct them to write their names on each slip. When a student wants to make a comment, he or she must drop a slip of paper on the floor inside the circle. In order to get full credit for this activity, each person must use all of his or her slips.
Step 5: Explain that you are a silent facilitator: students should not look to you for justification or a change of direction for the discussion. They are responsible for answering each of the questions, and they may not move on to a new question if the one at hand hasn't been thoroughly addressed.
Step 6: Pass out a list of open-ended questions that refer to the text. Explain that only the people in Group A are allowed to speak during the discussion. Everyone in Group B must remain silent during the discussion.
Step 7: Give the students a specific amount of time for the discussion and let them begin.
Step 8: When the discussion is over, have the Group B people give constructive feedback to their Group A partners. Afterwards you may give overall feedback to the whole group.
Step 9: The next time you have a seminar, put the Group B people into the inner circle.
- Read assigned text(s).
- Answer open-ended questions.
- Engage in meaningful discussion.
- Give peer feedback and constructive criticism.
- Were you able to identify those who read the assigned text(s) and those who didn't?
- Were you pleased with the thoroughness and depth of the discussion?
- Were you pleased with the constructive comments that the students gave to each other?
- Did students use all of their slips?
- Did they answer your questions thoroughly?
- Did they look to you less and less for guidance during the discussion?