What is a Socratic seminar? A Socratic seminar is a formal discussion based on a topic where the leader asks open-ended questions. Throughout the Socratic seminar students will listen closely to the comments of others, think critically, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of their peers. Students will learn to work cooperatively and ask questions intelligently and civilly. The Socratic seminar allows students to apply practical methods of a topic being discussed and enables the students to view certain points from several different perspectives. Throughout the discussion the teacher should minimally intervene, and when doing so it should be to lead the students to a specific topic or ask an additional open-ended question about a topic already being discussed. Giving the students the freedom to participate in a Socratic discussion will increase student involvement and student learning.
A Socratic discussion can be utilized in any subject including history, language arts, sociology, etc. but I would like to discuss the use of a Socratic discussion in a health education class. Incorporating a Socratic seminar in your health education class will be prevalent in most topics such as living a healthy life, building good character, physical activity, nutrition and health, managing stress, emotional problems, relationships, obesity, drug use, environmental health etc. this is because these topics are very relevant to your students everyday life. You can lead your students into a discussion with these topics with a current event article, after a discussion lecture, after watching a you tube clip, and relating it to something that may be going on or happening in your school. In addition these are all topics that I’m sure your students have interest in, hear about, and participate in on an everyday basis. With a proper questioning technique by the leader (teacher) you will be able to generate a very scholarly discussion among your students, you may be surprised how passionate some of your students are about specific topics.
The key to getting your students to participate and really get involved is to ask the right questions that will generate discussion. Once you are on a specific topic in class begin a Socratic seminar by asking a question on that topic, once a few students have responded start asking questions such as what do you mean by that? How does this relate? Could you give me an example? Could you explain further, what is he/she assuming? Why do you think that right? What lead you to that believe? What’s an alternative? Are you implying this? Etc. Again you may be shocked how some students may passionately agree with some of their peers responses and comments, or disagree and begin to debate which may be a good learning experience for the students because they will begin to view the topic/discussion from multiple perspectives which may enhance the learning experience.
The purpose of a Socratic seminar is to get your students engaged in a higher level of thinking to promote learning. Incorporating Socratic seminars into your class will lead your students in discussion, debate, critical thinking, acquiring greater interests, and the ability to apply practical methods. “He who learns but does not think is lost” Confucius (551-479 BCE).