Named after Greek philosopher Socrates, the Socratic Seminar may have ancient origins, but this method of classroom discussion is as relevant as ever to today’s classroom. In fact, 210 new resources with “Socratic Seminar” in their titles have been uploaded to the TpT site in 2019 so far, and teachers are crafting creative ways to implement this type of discussion.
But first, what exactly is a Socratic Seminar? Facing History And Ourselves, an education non-profit, explains, “In a Socratic Seminar activity, students help one another understand the ideas, issues, and values reflected in a text through a group discussion format.” Teachers or students prepare questions in advance, and then during the seminar, students sit in a circle and use those questions to guide a dialogue about a particular text.
Since the purpose of a Socratic Seminar is for students to seek a deeper understanding of a text, and because Socratic Seminars are intended to be student-led, this discussion format lends itself well to secondary ELA classrooms. However, there are currently 611 resources on TpT with “Socratic Seminar” in their title that are tagged with subjects other than ELA, and 265 resources tagged for grades PreK-5. According to our Teacher Author community and their resources, the teaching contexts in which Socratic Seminars can be used are surprisingly broad, and here are some resources that prove it:
Socratic Seminars in Social Studies
While debates are a popular discussion format in Social Studies classes, Socratic Seminars are also well suited to the subject. In the examples below, see how Socratic Seminars can be used for rich discussion of a primary source or leveraged to explore economic concepts and challenges:
Socratic Seminar on The Prince by Machiavelli
By Love and Let Lit
Grades 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
In this resource, students discuss Machiavelli’s philosophy on leadership, and make modern day comparisons.
Socratic Seminar Materials for the Economics Classroom!
By Mrs P’s Interactive Classroom
Grades 10th, 11th, 12th, Homeschool
Tailored for an economics discussion, this Socratic Seminar resource asks students to examine economic concepts and business ethics questions.
Socratic Seminars in Science
Promote a culture of inquiry in your science classroom with a Socratic Seminar. Through discussion, students can practice creating strong hypotheses and drawing conclusions from scientific evidence. Take a look at how these resources push critical thinking in science:
Socratic Seminar for Biology: Bacteria, Is it Really Bad?
By The Biology Blend
Grades 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
Students use textual evidence to answer the question, “Do you think that prokaryotic cells are detrimental to the living world?”
STEM Lesson: Wind Energy Fishbowl Debate
By English Bulldog
Grades 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th
Through a discussion that combines a Fishbowl-style Socratic Seminar with a debate, students argue the merits of wind power as an energy solution.
Socratic Seminars in Elementary Classrooms
With the right preparation and scaffolding, elementary students can rise to the challenge of a Socratic Seminar. Check out these resources for the instructions and materials needed to adapt Socratic Seminars for younger learners:
Discussion cards for Early Elementary Picture Books- Intro to Socratic Seminars
By Read Like a Rock Star
Grades Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Homeschool
Differentiated for multiple age levels, this resource provides discussion questions for 14 popular children’s books, as well as rules posters, discussion stems, and more to make Socratic Seminars a success in early elementary classrooms.
Socratic Seminars for Younger Elementary Students
By Teacher Stuff and a Little Fluff
Grades 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th
Get tips for teachers, discussion questions for any text, statement starters, and more in this Socratic Seminar resource adapted for elementary-age students. Plus wrap up with compliment cards students can share with their classmates for a job well done.
Through these resources, the Teacher-Author community has demonstrated just how applicable Socratic Seminars are to various grades and subjects. Using their creative ideas, Socratic Seminars can foster student-led learning and critical thinking in social studies, science, elementary classrooms, and beyond — which only begs the question — where will you be using a Socratic Seminar?