The Socratic Method - teaching21stcenturyskills

Emily Laase
The Socratic Method is a very ancient teaching
style developed by Socrates.
470 – 399 B.C.
Dedicated to the search for truth
Advocate of questioning
Often critical of the government
Chose death rather than
give up teaching
Socrates’ fundamental principle:
“Knowledge is virtue”
The Socratic Method is…
The search for truth
And above all
Taken from The Theory and Practice of Teaching by
Peter Jarvis
Four specific questioning strategies:
1. Helping learners to call to mind what they
have learned preconsciously or their tacit
2. Leading learners through a carefully
structured sequence of questions to a predetermined answer
Starting learners on a questioning process which
is totally unstructured at the outset
Having question and answer tests
to aid memory recall
“What is forgotten is not lost forever but can be
recalled with sufficient effort. It is in the mind
even if one must exert herself to bring it to
-Kenneth Seeskin
During a Socratic Seminar, students learn to:
 Listen actively
 Converse directly with other students, without
the need for mediation by the teacher
 Clarify, amplify, and recognize implications in
the text
 Build upon what others say
 Question the text and fellow
Uncertainty as to where discussion might lead
can make it difficult to fit into a highly
structured curriculum
Failure without student participation
Some students dislike that there is no “right”
Many students fear speaking in front of a
it can still be used effectively
The Socratic Method can be used for…
Many different subjects…
Many different age groups…
Ranging from elementary education to law
Identify the big question that will be used to kick off the
Socratic Seminar.
Prepare an additional 6-10 follow-up questions that are apt
to be used during the Seminar.
Be flexible and allow students to express opinions.
Allow “mistakes.” They can be valuable discussion points
and learning experiences!
Don’t be afraid of silence! You CAN get the discussion
going! Sometimes waiting is all it takes to get an answer!
Intervene if a student dominates the discussion and
encourage participation without embarrassment.
Over two thousand years ago...
Socrates saw what was crucial to human learning.
Learning has evolved…
but many of the same principles still apply.
The Socratic Method can still work in a modern classroom!
Anyway…students are bound to like it better than
another test, right?
Good Luck!
Garrett, Elizabeth (1998). The Socratic Method (Green Bag Article). Retrieved from
Jarvis, Peter (2002). The Theory and Practice of Teaching, Second Edition. New York: Routledge
Publishing Company.
Johnson, James A., Musial, Diann, Gollnick, Donna M., Dupuis, Victor L. (2008). Foundations
of American Education: Perspectives in a Changing World, Fourteenth Edition. Boston:
Pearson Publishing Company.
Neumayr, John W. (2010). The Socratic Method. Retrieved from
Seeskin, Kenneth (1987). Dialogue and Discovery: A Study in the Socratic Method. Albany: State
University of New York Press.
Speaking of Teaching: Stanford University Newsletter of Teaching (2003). Retrieved from
STEM Socratic Seminar (2010). Retrieved from

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