Socratic Seminar


From The Student Success Path forMiddle Level


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

• A Socratic Seminar fosters active learning as participantsexplore and evaluate the ideas, issues, and values in a particular text.

• Successful Socratic Seminars are dependent upon groups ofstudents developing skills together over time.


Tips for implementinga Socratic Seminar:

• Use Philosophical Chairs to develop students’ skill beforebeginning Socratic Seminar.

• Select a short text.

• Read the text aloud in class first; then have studentsread it again silently.

• Model the way to mark the text.  Show them how to mark important parts, ask questions in themargins, and summarize ideas.

• Model the way to write questions about the text.  Share questions.

• Give the students class time to prepare for the SocraticSeminar.

• 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 inideas and their ability to stimulate thoughtful discussion.  A good text raises questions in theparticipants’ minds.


2.  The Questions:  A Socratic Seminar opens with aquestion either posed by the leader or taken from participants as they becomemore experienced.  The openingquestion stimulates a discussion and takes participants back to the text asthey generate more questions and responses.


3.  The Leader:  The Leader is both leader and participant.  The leader knows the text well, cankeep the discussion focused on the text and energized, and can involvereluctant participants. He allows participants’ understandings to evolve.


4.  The Participants:  Good seminars occur when theparticipants study the text closely in advance, listen, share, ask questions,and use evidence to support what they say.  Participants acquire good seminar behaviors throughparticipating in seminars and reflecting on them afterward.


Facilitating theSocratic Seminar


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

• Outer circle participants can be asked to take notes onwhat the inner circle is saying or to keep track of how often and how wellstudents participate.


As students build their expertise, they can meet in SocraticCircles, 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.


Takenotes as you read.  Underlineimportant ideas and annotate your text.


2.  Use accountable talk terms to make the discussion flow moresmoothly.


Accountabletalk 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.


3.  Listen to what others say.  Do not interrupt.


Whenyou listen carefully, you can learn and you are better able to continue adiscussion.


4.  Speak clearly.


Forothers to respond to your opinions, everyone must be able to hear andunderstand you.


5.  Give others your respect.


Adiscussion is a cooperative exchange of ideas and not an argument or adebate.  During a discussion youcan learn from the opinions and ideas of others.


6.  Refer to the text to support what you say.


Supportwhat you say by going back to the text. Guide the participants to the places in the text that support yourinterpretation.


7.  Open your mind.


Cometo a Socratic seminar with the idea of sharing information.  Come with the idea that you might learnsomething.