What is a Socratic Seminar

What is a Socratic Seminar?
A Socratic Seminar is…
A specialized form of DISCUSSION, in which a group attempts to
Create a DIALECTIC (the art or practice of examining opinions or ideas logically, often by
method of question and answer, so as to determine their validity)
In regards to a specific TEXT (thought-provoking, multi-leveled primary texts are best)
To collectively seek deeper UNDERSTANDING of complex ideas
Through rigorously thoughtful DIALOGUE
Dialogue is characterized by:
 Suspending judgment
 Examining our own work without defensiveness
 Exposing our reasoning and looking for limits to it
 Communicating our underlying assumptions
 Exploring viewpoints more broadly and deeply
 Being open to disconfirming data
 Approaching someone who sees a problem differently not as an adversary, but as a
colleague in common pursuit of a better solution
 Developing the voice of each participant
Teacher leads the discussion
Teacher is separate from students
97% teacher talk
Average student response time is 8-12 seconds
Teacher affirmation of correctness is expected
“Rightness” is paramount
Students listen to the teacher, who has the answer
Teacher has ownership for the “flow”
This table adapted from
Teacher facilitates the discussion
Students and teacher are in a circle
97% student talk
Average student response time is 2-3 seconds
Affirming feedback from teacher is taboo
Thinking, supported with evidence, is paramount
Students listen primarily to peers
Students have ownership for the “flow”
Collaborative: multiple sides work toward shared
One listens to understand, to make meaning, and to
find common ground.
Enlarges and possibly changes a participant's point
of view.
Creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to
being wrong and an openness to change.
One submits one's best thinking, expecting that
other people's reflections will help improve it rather
than threaten it.
Calls for temporarily suspending one's beliefs.
One searches for strengths in all positions.
Oppositional: two opposing sides try to prove each
other wrong.
One listens to find flaws, to spot differences, and to
counter arguments.
Defends assumptions as truth.
Creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to
be right.
One submits one's best thinking and defends it
against challenge to show that it is right.
Calls for investing wholeheartedly in one's beliefs.
One searches for weaknesses in the other position.
Respects all the other participants and seeks not to
alienate or offend.
Assumes that many people have pieces of answers
and that cooperation can lead to a greater
Remains open-ended.
Rebuts contrary positions and may belittle or
deprecate other participants.
Assumes a single right answer that somebody
already has.
Demands a conclusion.
This table adapted from
What is my Role as a Participant in a Socratic Seminar?
Prepare Individually
  Read the text carefully, following the steps to critical reading
  Try to understand the basic ideas, concepts and vocabulary of the text
  Think of questions that the text raises for you
Engage in Shared Inquiry
  Keep the discussion focused on the text.
  Ask thoughtful questions that raise issues, lead to further questions, and require
more than a “yes or no” answer (remember Socrates’ idea of the dialectic).
  Support your views with evidence from the text.
  Seek to understand everyone’s views and questions. Ask for clarification,;restate
  Use “intellectual etiquette”---be patient and polite as if the conversation were
happening with guests at your dinner table.
  Observe the group carefully---be aware of body language as well as what is said.
  Be skeptical of unsupported statements; but never criticize the person.
  Follow the conversation closely; keep adding to it without repeating ground that’s
already been covered. Taking notes will help your trace the discussion.
  Include everyone in the group; encourage everyone to participate.
  Be prepared to change your mind as a result of the conversation; be open to new
  Take risks; there are no wrong answers.
  Have fun!