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Steps for Socratic Seminar on "What is Knowledge?" 

Follow the steps to create a challenging and exciting Socratic Seminar:

                           Pre Seminar Preparation:

 1.) Divide the class into groups of 4-5

2.) Each group “owns” a predetermined amount of Common Core State Standards (to be derived by the number of groups and the size of the class).

3.) The group analyzes each standard for what it really means (=student language, not teacher language)

4.) The group lists assignments, assessments, activities etc. that addressed/taught the standard. If there were none, take careful note of this.  Class names may be referred to, but no “teacher bashing” will be allowed.  That is not our purpose here. 

5.) The groups prepare a summative statement of its findings:

                   A.  Have you as students mastered the standards?

                                1.  Which skills were really hammered home?

                        2.  Which skills were not addressed or addressed superficially?

            B.  Based on teaching to the standards, how comprehensive was your education here at NFHS?

            C.  Understanding what a senior in high school SHOULD have learned, how confident do you feel about your success in college?

6.) From your reflection on the whole class share of its summative findings, isolate a question about knowledge that is open-ended and challenging. 


            Will a person learn without an extrinsic reward?

            What characteristics are necessary for students to learn?

            What qualities are necessary for a teacher to be effective?

            How does what we consider knowledge reflect our societal beliefs?  Would knowledge definitions vary among different societies?

7.) Prepare by taking notes on your personal educational experience, articles/books you have read about learning, and specific Common Core Standards addressed/not addressed during your studies.

8.  Pick a leader who will begin and facilitate the discussion, focus the group in the event of “wandering,” ask for specific details rather than opinions, clarify any confusion, and ensure that all members are treated with respect and given the chance to speak. 


                                   The Seminar Itself:

1. Students sit in a circle. Only the students in the circle participate in the dialogue.

2. The leader poses an open-ended question related to the unit of study to initiate dialogue.

3. Students begin to respond to the question supporting their answers with examples from the text/notes/specific experience.

4. Students should also paraphrase other students for clarification and ask additional questions to continue deeper exploration.

5.  Focus on the discussion, not on what you will say when it’s “your turn.” 

6.  Don’t raise hands; take turns speaking.

7.  Stick to the point currently under discussion; make notes about ideas you might want to come back to later or in another discussion.

8.  Talk to each other, not just to the leader or the teacher

9.  Speak up so that all can hear.

10.  If you get confused, speak up and ask for clarification.  The leader will help you with this.

                                   Follow Up:

1.  Students should discuss their feelings regarding the process in writing or orally.

2.  Brainstorm ways the activity could be more effective.           

                                 Points to Consider:

1.  The leader acts as a facilitator to remind students of the dialogue guidelines, to direct them back to the topic, or to offer a personal viewpoint about a text or other source material.

2.  Seminars should only last about 20 minutes per group.

3.  Silence is not to be feared.  You could be thinking.  Thinking is good.

4.  You will NOT be graded on the number of times you speak.  You will be graded on how you scaffold (raise the level of challenge within the question), listen and respond to others, reason, remain focused, and summarize what has been said and move the conversation forward, rather than just repeating things others have said.

                                  Socratic Seminar Analytic Rubric: 







Demonstrates respect for the learning process; has patience with different opinions and complexity; shows initiative by asking others for clarification: brings others into the conversation, moves the conversation forward; speaks to all of the participants; avoids talking too much.

Generally shows composure but may display impatience with contradictory or confusing ideas; comments, but does not necessarily encourage others to participate; may tend to address only the teacher or get into debates.

Participates and expresses a belief that his/her ideas are important in understanding the text; may make insightful comments but is either too forceful or too shy and does not contribute to the progress of the conversation; tends to debate, not dialogue.

Displays little respect for the learning process; argumentative; takes advantage of minor distractions; uses inappropriate language; speaks to individuals rather than ideas; arrives unprepared without notes, pencil/pen or perhaps even without the text.







Understands question before answering; cites evidence from text; expresses thoughts in complete sentences; move conversation forward; makes connections between ideas; resolves apparent contradictory ideas; considers others’ viewpoints, not only his/her own; avoids bad logic.

Responds to questions voluntarily; comments show an appreciation for the text but not an appreciation for the subtler points within it; comments are logical but not connected to other speakers; ideas interesting enough that others respond to them.

Responds to questions but may have to be called upon by others; has read the text but not put much effort into preparing questions and ideas for the seminar; comments take details into account but may not flow logically in conversation.

Extremely reluctant to participate even when called upon; comments illogical and meaningless; may mumble or express incomplete ideas; little or no account taken of previous comments or important ideas in the text.


Pays attention to details; writes down questions; responses take into account all participants; demonstrates that he/she has kept up; points out faulty logic respectfully; overcomes distractions.

Generally pays attention and responds thoughtfully to ideas and questions of other participants and the leader; absorption in own ideas may distract the participant from the ideas of others.

Appears to find some ideas unimportant while responding to others; may have to have questions or confusions repeated due to inattention; takes few notes during the seminar in response to ideas and comments.

Appears uninvolved in the seminar; comments display complete misinterpretation of questions or comments of other participants.


Thoroughly familiar with the text; has notations and questions in the margins; key words, phrases, and ideas are highlighted;  possible contradictions identified; pronounces words correctly.

Has read the text and comes with some ideas from it but these may not be written out in advance;  good understanding of the vocabulary but may mispronounce some new or foreign words.

Appears to have read or skimmed the text but has not marked the text or made meaningful notes or questions; shows difficulty with vocabulary; mispronounces important words; key concepts misunderstood; little evidence of serious reflection prior to the seminar.

Student is unprepared for the seminar; important words, phrases, ideas in the text are unfamiliar; no notes or questions marked in the text; no attempt made to get help with difficult material.

(Adapted with permission from Paul Raider)

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