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Thinking to Learn the Socratic Way

Strengthening thinking to learn behaviors is non-negotiable for educators. Not all students come to school equally prepared to learn academically, so a culture of thinking must be developed. One method in which students can engage in learning and thinking is through Socratic conversation. Teachers engage students by asking questions that create or produce new understanding. Conversations are collaborative and void of judgment.

Thinking the Socratic Way

Using the process of Socratic questioning, teachers facilitate conversations to extend or deepen thinking within students. Varied concepts are presented such as themes, metaphors, characters’ actions, motives, or authors’ styles and techniques. Teachers might assign a text to be read prior to Socratic conversations. Open-ended questions about the text are developed and asked by the teacher, encouraging students to use textual evidence to support given responses. The interactions among students enable them to examine individual opinions and beliefs as well as seek knowledge.

Several group formats can be used when utilizing Socratic conversations.

  • 4 to 2 – Groups of four engage in conversations, and then move to partners to process the shared information.
  • 2 to 4 – Partners have conversations, and then form groups of four toengage in further conversation to process shared information.
  • Inner/Outer Circles – An outer group silently observes an inner circleof students as they collaborate to construct meaning about the text.Afterwards, the outer group provides feedback. Then the groups switchroles and repeat the process.

    Students are informed that questions facilitate respectful dialogue and have no single correctresponse. Students are invited to form personal connections with the text and the world outsideof school. Some questions might ask students to share similar or different experiences as those in the text. The teacher might also ask students to clarify their perspectives and use supporting textual evidence. Other questions challenge students to form comparisons, provide cause-andeffect relationships, and state reasons the text could be realistic or unrealistic, comparing it to everyday life. Questioning prompts may be posted in classrooms or given to students to establish routines where both teachers and students ask questions. Socratic conversations demonstrate the importance of students working cooperatively to construct meaning without focusing on a single interpretation. Thus, students are led to explore information, process information, and form a deeper understanding when Socratic questioning is emphasized.

    Click here to download a printable version of the Socratic quetioning prompts.

    Click here to download a printable version of this article.