Students Coaching Students Socratic Seminar: A Step-By-Step Process


I have been using a model for Socratic seminar over the last couple of months with great success.  In the model, a central fiction text (a novel or play) is supplemented with a number of non-fiction and multimedia resources.  In addition, students set goals before the seminar and are “coached” by peers in order to improve.  To streamline future posts about this process, here is a day in the implementation of a Socratic Seminar and a collection of resources to use in preparation.

For the seminar, I usually determine a central theme with teachers, and from that theme, we establish a central question and supplemental questions around that theme.  Independently, I gather resources to address the questions in different ways, seeking to find a variety of sources from which students can derive connections to the theme.  These sources have evolved to include non-fiction news articles and scientific texts, multimedia sources such as videos and TEDTalks, and, if I can find them, infographics and personal accounts dealing with the topic.  Some teachers have chosen to integrate some of these sources into whole class instruction and others have decided to give the students the list and let them choose a number of sources to use (usually telling them to choose one of each source type available); Most teachers have done a little of both.  Teachers have created a variety of resources to use for the purpose of note taking for preparation.  Here are some of those resources:

In addition, students are usually given the source list and essential questions well before the seminar and are given time to take notes over the questions specifically, writing down evidence that is relevant.

Introduction Resources:

Other Supplemental Resources:

Preparation for Students before seminar:

  • Annotate articles and other texts
  • Collect direct quotes and other textual evidence specific to at least five of the questions for the Socratic discussion
  • Write at least three original questions dealing with the texts and themes being discussed
  • Meet with partners the day before seminar to set goals for the process

Day of Seminar

Set Up:

  • Put students’ names who will be in the inner circle on a word document on the LCD projector and prompt students to see if they need to sit in the middle as they come in
  • Coaches need to be seated directly behind the person they are tracking

All other roles:

o   Big Board- At the front board (they can take un-formatted notes or have columns for questions, opinions, and points of agreement/disagreement)

o   Tally Keeper- Can be done on the LCD projector.  This person will just record each time a student participates

o   Quote/Transition tracker- Can sit anywhere outside of the circle. One person can easily do both roles. There are worksheets to use for this (see above- supplemental resources).

  • Before the seminar starts, find the person who the teacher wants to be the facilitator and ask them to choose a question to start the discussion. Also remind them that they need to call on everyone, choose the person who has yet to speak first, and let them know they can politely prompt those who have not shared but cannot force anyone to share.  You can also just have the facilitator be the one who asks the question.  In this way, with each new question, a new facilitator will take leadership.

Before the seminar starts, prompt students to do the following:

o   Inner Circle please make sure to have:

  • Essential questions for the seminar
  • Article annotations and notes
  • Socratic seminar norms and transitions sheet or nameplate
  • (Tell them to give their OWN rubric and goal sheet to their partner to keep track of their scores BEFORE they start)

o   Outer Circle you should have:

  • Partner’s rubric
  • The feedback sheet with PARTNER’S NAME AND GOALS on it

Once everyone has resources out and is ready to go, remind the inner circle of the following:

  • They must be called on by the facilitator to speak
  • Anyone may ask a question at any point, not just the facilitator
  • Students should build on others ideas as much as possible
  • They should also make connections by using text evidence and notes, in addition to using their own personal experience or other sources

Remind the outer circle:

  • Keep a running tally on the rubric of participation points by making a check mark in the appropriate place
  • Fill out their feedback notes
  • Don’t speak during the seminar

Begin the seminar and set the timer for fifteen minutes. The teacher is totally out of the conversation (even if there is a silence and it seems awkward, that is fine). Students will need to struggle at times to be successful in the long run, and students will get feedback during halftime as well.  The only time a teacher should interfere is if someone is being personally attacked or saying something inappropriate.  (I have never seen this happen, though.)


At fifteen minutes, stop the seminar and ask coaches to make sure they have filled out the top section of the feedback sheet for their partner (strength, area to improve, and one suggestion). This resource is linked above in “introductory resources).  As they are doing this, begin sharing out role information.

  • Teacher calls on each person filling one of the four additional roles

o   Prompts students to share findings

o   Prompts students to give positive feedback and suggestions

  • Students then get a couple of minutes (less than five) to meet with their partners and get feedback
  • Afterward, the teacher prompts all students to share out any positive feedback and suggestions

o   How do you all think it is going?

o   What is the group doing well?

o   How can they improve?

Personally, I think this feedback loop is one of the most effective and influential ways to give formative feedback that I have experienced.  I encourage teachers to not rush through this, but instead allow students to take ownership of their own improvement and see that as part of the process- because it is.  When students are reflecting on their own learning and performance, they are growing.

Second Half

Students begin the second half of the seminar exactly as the first. All roles are still filled and coaches continue to take notes and tally. The teacher can decide to use the last couple of minutes of class to get final feedback or let the seminar continue through the end of the period.

Remind students if they were not in the inner circle today, they will be tomorrow. Also, if there is not time for final feedback, it can be done the first couple of minutes of class the next day.


For participation, it seems to work best if teachers create columns for the different “positive participation” categories on the rubric to keep track of participation.  It is too hard to have students totally reliable for tracking.  Also, I would suggest checking preparation separately from the other elements because teachers have found the rubric to be somewhat overwhelming.  If there is an area of the process I would like to improve, assessment would be it.

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