Q and A: Socratic Seminar on Civil Discourse

On October 26, I hosted a workshop for teachers who wanted to learn more about implementing Socratic discussion into their classroom.  More on that here.  

They left questions on their exit tickets.  See my responses below. 

Do you have any suggestions for lessons to build skills for the role of “Big Board”?  (This is a student role responsible for summarizing the discussion at half-time and at the end of each daily Socratic discussion.) 

The ability to listen to different perspectives and then objectively synthesize content is a valuable resource for all students.  However, it is definitely a skill that requires higher-order thinking.  In order to build this skill, I might suggest a lesson using a videotaped discussion.  It might look something like this:

  • Introduce the importance of being able to listen to a discussion objectively and synthesize ideas (would love to hear attention grabber ideas here!- Maybe showing a clip from the Presidential debates?)
  • Show a short panel discussion.  Here is one on cyber-bullying that’s 8 minutes.
  • As students watch the video, have them practice taking notes.
  • Share notes with one another in small groups and do the following: 1.) Share the content of each person’s notes and talk about similarities and differences in what each person wrote down 2.) Talk about strategies used to take notes, synthesize ideas, and come up with a list of best practices for note taking 3.) Create one list of the “Big Ideas” from the video to share with the whole class
  • Each group can share out their tips and their “Big Ideas” summary

How do you decide who is going to be paired to coach one another?  

This can be done a lot of different ways.  You could have students give you “suggestions” or a “top three choices” via an exit ticket before the seminar.  You could assign them randomly.  You could match based upon who you think would be best able to communicate with one another.  Each student will get to play both roles no matter what.

How can I make this my own?  

This process will naturally become your own the more you try to implement it and create your own tips and tricks.  In addition, the driving question and the resources gathered are also a place where you will get to express your own art of teaching.

How many class periods do you dedicate to a Socratic discussion?  

Here is a general outline for class periods 45 minutes to one hour in length if you are using this model for the first time.

  • 1 class session for the entry event and to create the list of sub-questions
  • 1 class session to introduce the Socratic Seminar method and norms to be used
  • 2 class sessions to conduct research and create any additional supplementary questions in preparation for the seminar
  • 2-3 class sessions to conduct the seminar (depending upon the number of students in the class)

How can I adapt this for my own age group?  

The content (and amount of content) for use in preparation for the seminar is the major adaptation for age group (if the kids are creating their own questions).  The method itself could work for a very wide range of ages.

One suggestion I have for adapting this technique for your audience is to use an anchor text you already have in the curriculum and build the driving question from that.  (You can see many examples of how I have done this in my blog posts for To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, Romeo and Juliet, The Crucible, and Julius Caesar).

Do you think that these should (could?) replace final assessments? 

It depends on what you are assessing and if the content to be covered will be able to be assessed through speaking and listening.  I have used seminar to assess speaking and listening skills themselves- not the specific content we are covering.  I would be curious to see what it would look like to grade these for “what students know” on topics and how they express that knowledge.  We did talk about Socratic Discussion as a lead in to a written assignment.  I think this could be interesting, too.


Thoughts?  Additional ideas?  Please leave comments below. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: