Engaging students through the Socratic Seminar

The Socratic Seminar is something I have yet to master, much less even try in the classroom. It takes time, patience, and lots of practice. I’ve been spending some time looking at how other educators do this in their classrooms, and found some good ideas. Since I do not specifically know my students yet, it’s hard to tell what behavioral/mental maturity they have, but my plan is to give it a go. I think probably any student can, at some level, engage in student-to-student discussion and recognize metacognition.  You just have to scaffold it. I am teaching a writing skills class that focuses on the persuasive essay, which I’ve taught before but definitely flopped. I think this is because my students did not know how to identify and make claims and support them.

This video from the Teaching Channel is not exactly a Socratic Seminar (unfortunately I could not embed the video), but it definitely serves my purpose of having students make claims and counterclaims and dialogue with each other instead of me being the sounding board. I will probably have my kids watch this and see how it’s done. And the instructor includes downloads of the helpful graphic organizers and sentence starters on the webpage.

Most of the time, if we ever had a controversial conversation, it would end in “f*** ____________ (fill in with whatever student disagrees with).” Not exactly an academic discourse.

Encouraging and reinforcing how to use the language of discourse is one of the most powerful tools to help our students engage with important issues in meaningful ways. I think something I have noticed is that most kids who are “behind” in language acquisition have great ideas they want to share—they just don’t know how.

I have also been reading about the Paideia Socratic Seminar to see how it’s structured.


So, educators, have you used the Socratic Seminar in your classroom? If so, how do you structure it/how did it go?





  1. I used a form of SocSem with eighth graders. We used a classic short story with a moral dilemma, something we can all relate to, and my students were full of ideas as to why one idea appealed to them over another. ( ie. Is stealing wrong if he did it to feed his family?) I saw some introverts break out and speak their minds. If you set up the rules of order and teach respect of another’s opinion, it is an enjoyable activity for all involved.

      1. I’m not sure which discussion strategy best opens the door for the introverts, but the I suspect the classroom foundation of “respect for everyone’s opinion, and no one’s idea is better or worse than another’s ” plays a big part. Allowing them to be a spectator is fine for a bit. This lets them grow comfortable with the process. After a bit though, I include them in the circle whether they raise their hands or not. Once they open up one time and it is a positive experience for them, they find it gets easier and easier to participate.

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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