How to Teach like Socrates: 7 Secrets of the Socratic Method

Socratic method

Have you ever wondered how to get your students to think more deeply and critically about the topics you teach? How to spark lively discussions and debates that challenge their assumptions and perspectives? How to foster a culture of inquiry and curiosity in your classroom?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might want to try the Socratic method. The Socratic method is a teaching technique that involves asking a series of questions that lead the students to discover the answers for themselves. It is named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who used this method to elicit the truth from his interlocutors.

The Socratic method is not only a great way to develop your students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, but also to enhance their communication, collaboration, and creativity. It can also help you create a more student-centered and democratic learning environment, where everyone’s voice is heard and respected.

But how do you use the Socratic method effectively in your classroom? How do you design and ask the right questions? How do you facilitate and moderate the discussion? How do you assess and provide feedback to your students?

In this article, we will share with you 7 tips and tricks on how to use the Socratic method in your classroom. By following these suggestions, you will be able to make the most of this powerful pedagogical tool and transform your teaching and learning experience.

Tip #1: Define your learning objectives and outcomes

Before you start using the Socratic method, you need to have a clear idea of what you want your students to learn and achieve. What are the main concepts, skills, or attitudes that you want them to develop or improve? How will you measure their progress and performance?

Example: By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Explain the basic principles and applications of thermodynamics
  • Apply the first and second laws of thermodynamics to solve engineering problems
  • Analyze the efficiency and performance of heat engines and refrigerators
  • Evaluate the environmental and social impacts of energy conversion and consumption

Having well-defined learning objectives and outcomes will help you design your questions and guide your discussion. It will also help you align your Socratic method with your curriculum standards and expectations.

Tip #2: Choose a suitable topic and text

The next step is to choose a topic and a text that are suitable for the Socratic method.

The topic should be relevant, interesting, and challenging for your students. It should also be open-ended, meaning that it does not have a single or simple answer, but rather invites multiple perspectives and interpretations.

The text should be a rich source of information, ideas, and arguments that can stimulate your students’ thinking and curiosity. It can be a book, an article, a poem, a speech, a video, or any other type of media that relates to your topic. The text should also be appropriate for your students’ level of comprehension and background knowledge.

Example: The topic for today’s lesson is thermodynamics, which is the study of energy and its transformations. The text that we will use as a basis for our discussion is this article from Scientific American, titled “The Thermodynamics of Life”. It explores how thermodynamics can help us understand the origin and evolution of life on Earth.

Tip #3: Prepare your questions in advance

One of the most important aspects of the Socratic method is the quality of your questions. Your questions should be carefully crafted to elicit deep and meaningful responses from your students. They should also be sequenced in a logical and coherent way that leads them from lower-order to higher-order thinking skills.

There are different types of questions that you can use in the Socratic method, such as:

Clarifying Questions

  • These are questions that ask your students to explain or define what they mean by a certain word, phrase, or concept. For example: “What do you mean by democracy?” “How do you define justice?” “Can you give me an example of oppression?”

Probing questions

  • These are questions that ask your students to provide evidence or reasons for their claims or opinions. For example: “Why do you think that?” “What is your source for that information?” “How do you know that is true?”

Comparison Questions

  • These are questions that ask your students to compare or contrast different ideas, perspectives, or situations. For example: “How is this similar to or different from what we learned before?” “What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?” “How would this work in another context or culture?”

Implication Questions

  • These are questions that ask your students to explore the consequences or implications of their statements or actions. For example: “What would happen if everyone did that?” “How does this affect other people or groups?” “What are the ethical or moral issues involved in this case?”

Application Questions

  • These are questions that ask your students to apply their knowledge or skills to new or real-life situations. For example: “How can you use this concept in your own life?” “What would you do if you were in this situation?” “How can we solve this problem using what we learned?”

You should prepare your questions in advance, but also be flexible enough to adapt them according to the flow of the discussion and the needs and interests of your students. You should also avoid asking yes/no questions, leading questions, or questions that have obvious or factual answers.

Tip #4: Set the ground rules and expectations

Before you start the discussion, you need to set some ground rules and expectations for your students. These rules and expectations will help you create a safe and respectful learning environment, where everyone can participate and contribute without fear or judgment.

Some of the ground rules and expectations that you can establish are:

  • Everyone should listen attentively and respectfully to each other.
  • Everyone should speak one at a time and wait for their turn.
  • Everyone should use polite and constructive language and avoid personal attacks or insults.
  • Everyone should be prepared to back up their statements with evidence or reasons.
  • Everyone should be open-minded and willing to consider different points of view.
  • Everyone should be ready to ask and answer questions.

You can also ask your students to come up with their own ground rules and expectations, and have them sign a contract or agreement to follow them.

Tip #5: Facilitate and moderate the discussion

Once you have set the ground rules and expectations, you can start the discussion. Your role as a teacher is to facilitate and moderate the discussion, not to dominate or dictate it. You should act as a guide, a coach, a mentor, or a partner, rather than as an authority, an expert, or a judge.

Some of the strategies that you can use to facilitate and moderate the discussion are:

  • Start with an engaging hook or an icebreaker that introduces the topic and the text.
  • Ask your prepared questions in a clear and concise way, and give your students enough time to think and respond.
  • Encourage your students to ask their own questions, as well as to answer yours.
  • Use active listening skills, such as paraphrasing, summarizing, reflecting, or clarifying what your students say.
  • Provide positive feedback, praise, or reinforcement for your students’ contributions.
  • Use probing or follow-up questions to challenge your students to go deeper or further in their thinking.
  • Use scaffolding or differentiation techniques to support your students who need more help or guidance.
  • Use grouping or pairing strategies to promote peer interaction and collaboration among your students.
  • Use body language, eye contact, gestures, or movement to maintain your students’ attention and engagement.
  • Use humor, anecdotes, stories, or examples to make the discussion more lively and relatable.

Tip #6: Assess and provide feedback to your students

After the discussion, you need to assess and provide feedback to your students. This will help you evaluate their learning outcomes and progress, as well as their participation and performance in the discussion. It will also help you identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas for improvement or further exploration.

There are different ways that you can assess and provide feedback to your students, such as:

  • Using rubrics or checklists that measure their critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity skills.
  • Using self-assessment or peer-assessment tools that allow them to reflect on their own learning process and outcomes.
  • Using quizzes or tests that assess their knowledge or understanding of the topic or the text.
  • Using portfolios or journals that showcase their work or products related to the topic or the text.
  • Using oral or written feedback that highlights their achievements and challenges, as well as provides suggestions for improvement.

You should also ask your students for feedback on your use of the Socratic method. This will help you improve your own teaching practice and effectiveness.

Tip #7: Celebrate and celebrate your students’ success

Finally, you should celebrate and celebrate your students’ success. This will help you acknowledge their efforts and achievements, as well as motivate them to continue learning and growing. It will also help you build a positive and supportive learning community in your classroom.

Some of the ways that you can celebrate and celebrate your students’ success are:

  • Giving them certificates, badges, stickers, or rewards for their participation and performance in the discussion.
  • Sharing their work or products with other teachers, students, parents, or stakeholders.
  • Organizing a showcase or an exhibition of their work or products related to the topic or the text.
  • Inviting them to present their work or products to other audiences or forums.
  • Writing them a letter of appreciation or recommendation for their work or products.

The Socratic method is a powerful way to engage your students in critical thinking and dialogue. By following these 7 tips and tricks, you will be able to use it effectively in your classroom. You will also be able to transform your teaching and learning experience into a more meaningful and enjoyable one. Try it out today!