In the field of education, very few strategies have caught on around the globe quite like Socratic Seminars. This interactive learning strategy pushes the students into the driver’s seat, and allows them to take charge of their own learning. The basic idea behind Socratic seminars, is that the teacher is not the all end all when it comes to the classroom, and by seceding power in the classroom to the students, we allow them to flourish in ways they wouldn’t.
How it works is a teacher presents the students with information, this can come in the form of an article, or a video, or something as simple as a quote. The key is that the information is controversial enough that it prompts discussions. That is because the students have to write open ended discussion questions based on the information provided. These questions should not lead to one word answers, and in a perfect world they should lead to a long branching discussion. Once the questions are written, the discussion begins. As a teacher, this is where you sit back and watch as the students ask questions in a large group setting. This can prompt some challenges so it is important to establish rules to dictate the discussion beforehand. Besides monitoring the rules, the teacher also helps facilitate the discussion if things die down. They also monitor participation and actively encourage different students to talk. At the end, you bring all the students together and allow the students to give their final thoughts. You then wrap up your lesson, and it is done.
The benefits of this exercise are many, but one of the most important is how it forces students to think critically about a subject matter, and then use that critical thinking to form their own opinions. Too often we expect students to simply memorize information, but the exercise alleviates that pressure, and instead gives students a forum where they can express themselves. An opportunity they are not often given.
That is what makes this short, and easy, activity so effective. One does not need technology to accomplish a good Socratic seminar, they just need students who are ready and willing to speak their mind, and a teacher who is ready to give up a little power to benefit the students.
Joe Bourgault Peace Corps Volunteer, Togo
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