Socratic Method

The Socratic Method of Teaching

What is the Socratic Method?   

The following video provides an introduction to the Socratic Method and describes the basic steps that are used in Socratic questioning.

The Socratic Method can effectively be used in a college classroom to engage students and promote higher level critical thinking.  Students are encouraged to make statements or draw conclusions about a topic and then to question those statements or conclusions.  Students will work together in a group to examine the information from all directions and make a decision regarding whether their original conclusion was accurate.  If it was not, students will use the information to draw a new conclusion and test that idea.  They will continue in this manner until they are comfortable with the conclusion.  This type of learning environment promotes inquiry, questioning, and critical thinking by bringing the students together to create ideas and solve problems.  The students learn the content in a more meaningful way because they are required to apply their knowledge to a situation and be more active in the learning process.  Not only is the method an effective learning tool, but it gives students practice working in groups to solve problems which is valuable real-life experience.

The Role of the Teacher:

  • Provide students with the background knowledge necessary to participate in the discussion.
  • Create the learning environment by arranging the students in a circle and setting the ground rules (see video below for suggestions).
  • Provide meaningful and significant questions that provide structure and direction to the discussion.  Do not use yes/no questions or questions that are vague or beyond the students ability level.  Questions should be probing and thought-provoking.
  • Create intellectually stimulating environment in which every student feels safe contributing to the discussion - value the input of every student and help draw them in.
  • Keep the discussion focused and periodically summarize what has been discussed by writing key thoughts or ideas, thereby acting as a facilitator.

Role of the Student:

  • Prepare for the discussion by completing reading assignments or other homework in advance.
  • Participate in the discussion in a clear and succinct way.
  • Be respectful of every other student and follow the guidelines created by the instructor.

How to put the Socratic Method to use in a classroom

This video provides an example of the Socratic Method being used in a classroom and demonstrates the role of the both the instructor and the students.

The Socratic Method can be used in several ways in a classroom setting.  It could be used to explore a particular aspect of the course content, encourage creativity or brainstorming or search for solutions to a specific problem.  The instructor will pose the original general question and will then pose additional question to help direct the discussion and keep it focused, without providing answers or input.  The link below provides examples of general questions and follow up questions used by the instructor. 

General Examples of Socratic Questions:  http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/socratic/fifth.html

Suggested Readings

  • Adib-Hajbaghery, M., & Aghajani, M. (2011). Traditional Lectures, Socratic Method and Student Lectures: Which One do the Students Prefer?.
  • Hawkins-Leon, C. G. (1998). Socratic Method-Problem Method Dichotomy: The Debate Over Teaching Method Continues, The. BYU Educ. & LJ, 1.
  • Lake, D. A. (2001). Student performance and perceptions of a lecture-based course compared with the same course utilizing group discussion. Physical Therapy, 81(3), 896-902.
  • Overholser, J. C. (1992). Socrates in the classroom. The social studies, 83(2), 77-82.
  • Peterson, E. (2011). Teaching To Think: Applying The Socratic Method Outside The Law School Setting. Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC), 6(5).
  • Polite, V., & Adams, A. (1996). Improving critical thinking through Socratic seminars. Spotlight on student success, No. 110.
  • Seeskin, K. (1987). Dialogue and discovery: A study in Socratic method. SUNY Press.

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