Why Socratic Seminars?

As a new adjunct lecturer, I found myself completely overwhelmed with the amount of prep and marking.  I still do but have figured out a few ways to help lessen the constant inflow of essays.


Socratic Seminars are wonderful for several reasons.  The students enjoy them and they thoroughly prepare.  It allows all students a chance to speak.  The seminar gives students the opportunity to participate in constructive discussions without feeling the pressure of asking questions during a lecture - for this reason, I believe, they ask more questions in the seminar.  It introduces students to annotation and engages them in analytical debate, critical thinking, and textual analysis.


I ask my students to read quite a small section of text and prepare by marking up the text using my Interpretive Note-taking guide.  They also have to answer a series of questions that I upload onto Google Classroom.  Both are due before the seminar starts although they have access to these notes during the seminar.  After the seminar, they also have to reflect upon the seminar.  Both sets of questions are available in my Socratic Seminar (ANY TEXT).

I do have inner and outer circles where half the class participates in the inner circle while the other half only takes notes and listens to the inner group.  I then switch the groups.  This works perfectly as my classes are 80 minutes long and meet twice a week.  I have between 30 and 35 students in a regular class (15 to 18 in the seminar) so the size works well too.

I have added a new component to my seminars!  The outer circle engages in Visual Notetaking while the seminar is taking place.   I do this for several reasons: they are more focused on the discussion; this helps them prepare for a larger VNT assignment; they are not allowed any electronics in the outer circle and this gives them a way to be engaged without tuning out the discussion; VNT helps them remember the material more than traditional note-taking.  Here are two examples:

For high school teachers this method would work well too.  I would give the reading out several days before the seminar and then perhaps teach on another section of the text while they prepare.  With a flipped classroom you could get them to do the mark up over several classes.


The amount of marking is far less than a short essay, for instance.  However, I find that the students learn more from this experience than writing a short reflective paper on the same material.

It's a win win situation as I enjoy the marking more and the students learn several skills at once: close reading, Interpretive commentary, textual analysis, and more.   Students must articulate their findings and provide evidence to support their ideas.

Last semester I taught two sections of my class The Aesthetics of Storytelling and two sections of The Human Condition: Revenge and Retribution/Justice and Law.


Here are some comments from students after the Socratic Seminar:

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