The goal of a Socratic seminar is for students to help one another understand the ideas, issues, and values reflected in a specific text. Students are responsible for facilitating a discussion around ideas in the text rather than asserting opinions. Through a process of listening, making meaning, and finding common ground students work toward shared understanding rather than trying to prove a particular argument. A Socratic seminar is not used for the purpose of debate, persuasion, or personal reflection, as the focus is on developing shared meaning of a text.
Important elements of a Socratic seminar include:
- Engagement (everyone listening and sharing to understand)
- Mutual respect (no interruptions or put-downs)
- Use of evidence (comments always refer back to the text)
Socratic seminars have rules that may not apply to other forms of discussion, so before beginning the seminar, it is important that everyone is aware of the norms. Below are typical rules used to structure a Socratic seminar:
1) Talk to each other in a way that can be understood by the entire circle or group.
2) Refer to evidence from the text to support your ideas.
3) Paraphrase what the previous student has said before adding you own observations.
4) Pay attention to your “airtime” – how much you have spoken in relation to other students.
5) Hold your question or comment until the person presently speaking is finished.
Common statements or questions used during a Socratic seminar include:
- Where does that idea come from in the text?
- What does this word or phrase mean?
- Can you say that in another way?
- What do you think the author is trying to say?
- What else could that mean?
- Who was the audience for this text? How does that shape our interpretation of these words?
- Who was the author of this text? What do we know about him/her? How does that shape our understanding of these words?