Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills through Socratic Seminar

Communication skills are key to 21st Century success.

Seminar studentAll students need to learn how to listen attentively and how to speak clearly and persuasively–no matter what career field they eventually enter. The current State Standards recognize that speaking and listening are vital skills that are essential to students’ success, just like reading and writing.

Socratic seminars are probably the best tool available for teaching speaking and listening standards—from elementary school through high school. When fully integrated into the curriculum, Socratic seminars support success across the full range of Common Core language arts skills—including reading and writing.

Learn to teach Socratic seminars. 

How to teach Speaking and Listening standards

While some people think of Socratic seminar as any form of teaching through questions, Paideia uses a more specific definition: seminar is a collaborative, intellectual dialogue that is facilitated with open-ended questions about a text. This type of classroom discussion directly contributes to the skills described in the state anchor standards for speaking and listening, especially these four:

  • Anchor standard #1: Participate in conversations. Students must be prepared to take part in a range of conversations and collaborations, “building on others’ ideas and expressing their own.”
  • Anchor standard #3: Evaluate statements by others. Students must be able to “evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, use of evidence and rhetoric.”
  • Anchor standard #4. Make a clear argument. Students must be able to “present information, findings and supportive evidence so that listeners can follow the line of reasoning.”
  • Anchor standard #6: Adapt speech, using appropriate formality. While students may use more colloquial language during seminars, they go on to express their ideas in formal English in follow-up writing assignments.

Speaking and listening are learned skills, like reading and writing.

Socratic seminar studentMany educators make the mistake of thinking that if children don’t come to school already knowing how to carry on a thoughtful conversation, they’re not going to learn.

In fact, speaking and listening are skills that can be taught in the classroom, much like reading and writing. And educators must teach these skills, if we are to prepare students for success in their careers, their communities, and their personal lives.

At first, students’ lack of communication skills may be evident in seminars. But with teachers’ guidance and coaching, students improve. To build speaking and listening abilities, Paideia recommends a five-step process for teaching seminars. This process includes setting specific goals before each seminar and assessing progress after each seminar.

See more on how to teach a Socratic seminar.