How to Teach a Socratic Seminar

What is Socratic Seminar?

Bust of Socrates

Socratic seminars continue the tradition of Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher who taught his followers by asking questions. Today, Socratic dialogue can transform students’ learning experience in classrooms from elementary through high school and beyond. When facilitated by a skilled teacher, the Paideia approach to Socratic seminar can lead to:

  • Significantly improved student achievement in core Language Arts skills, including reading, speaking and listening, and writing
  • Increased student motivation because students get to generate and express their own ideas
  • A more respectful school culture with fewer behavioral problems, because students learn communication skills and struggle less with boredom

Socratic seminar has come to be understood to mean any form of teaching by asking questions. However, Paideia promotes a more rigorous approach, designed to improve students’ critical thinking and communication skills. We define Socratic seminar as a collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text.

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Using Socratic Dialogue to Achieve New State Standards

Seminars using Socratic dialogue are probably the best approach available for teaching all of the Language Arts skills described in State Standards: reading, speaking and listening, and writing. Seminar should be taught as a 5-part process that integrates all of these core skills:

Seminar girl
Student in a Socratic seminar
  • First, reading activities ask students to observe and analyze the seminar text.
  • Then, the teacher offers instruction on strategies for effective communication, and participants set speaking and listening goals.
  • During the seminar, the teacher’s Socratic questioning provokes more complex thinking and articulate self-expression.
  • After the seminar, participants assess their progress toward speaking and listening goals.
  • Finally, writing assignments develop ideas that students began to explore during seminar, requiring more thorough analysis and clearer expression.

Lightning in the Classroom: Resources for Teaching Seminars

Thought-provoking seminars can light up students’ desire to learn and invigorate any classroom, in public or private schools. It can even feel like a “flash of lightning” when students discover new ideas. Want to become a great Socratic seminar teacher? Paideia offers resources to help you change lives:

You can also follow these links to learn:

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