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Socratic Seminar

The Socratic style of discourse lends itself quite well to establishing critical thinkers due to the fact that Socrates believed that enabling students to think for themselves was more important than filling their heads with knowledge.

With so much talk about the Common Core standards and truly increasing our student's argumentative powers and critical thinking skills, I decided to launch a Socratic Seminar style of instruction in my sixth grade classroom this week.

Our Seminar

The Text

My approach began by engaging in a guided reading of a novel titled I Can't Believe I Have To Do This by Jan Alford.  Throughout the course of the week we read the novel and discussed story events and critical vocabulary associated with the readings.

The Questions

Students were given a Socratic Seminar "Prep Sheet" at the beginning of the week.  The sheet asked the students to do the following:

#1.  Summarize the assigned reading
#2. Identify 3 compelling quotes or statements from the reading
#3.  Develop one Knowledge based question
#4.  Develop one Application style question
#5. Develop one Synthesis style question
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The Set Up

I then arranged my room in a double horseshoe configuration and assigned five students to be the inner circle. The inner circle students were slated to be the ones discussing and interacting. The outer circle of students were slated to observe and reflect and provide a 'backchannel'.

The Discourse
Relinquishing control was the MOST DIFFICULT thing!!  Once the seminar began I truly had to force myself not to jump in and facilitate.  Initially, it was truly awkward.  Students nervously giggled and looked down at their papers.  No one seemed willing to emerge as a leader.  Once they realized that no one was coming to their rescue, the dialogue began and WOW.
DID YOU KNOW??  A website called can take any .jpg or .gif image and turn it into a larger printable poster with overlapping edges for assembly??


To occupy my outer circle, I distributed 5 ipads (1 for every 3 students) and allowed them to connect on  There they posted thoughts, questions, comments and even prompts to assist the inner circle.  This back channel scrolled on the Smartboard throughout the seminar.  (Admittedly, I didn't love the lack of grammar conventions demonstrated in the statements below.)


Without a doubt, we will do this again.  Once the awkwardness ended, the dialog went FAR beyond what I've ever experienced with this novel.  Students shared events that related DEEPLY to the characters, the character's choices and experiences.  They also extrapolated character traits and applied them to new situations.

As an assessment tool, each student completed an Exit Slip paragraph where they exercised their argumentative writing skills by completing a one paragraph reflection on the grade they deserved as a result of their participation in the seminar.

Socratic discourse....making the kiddos use THEIR Smarticles!!

All of my materials are available at: