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29 Nov 2019

Socratic Seminars in Teacher Training

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Objectives (of the activity):

By the end of the activity the participants are expected to develop an understanding of major problems in the education system, discuss specific examples in detail, listen to cases unfamiliar to them, inquire into others’ experiences, suggest and discuss solutions from multiple aspects.

Materials: The activity can be designed based on the participants’ anecdotes, education related movies, TED talks or articles.


Socratic Seminars are suitable for experienced, novice or preservice teachers. They are simple discussion circles that centre on critical thinking where participants question others comments in a non-confrontational way in order to better understand and relate to them. Typical questions are: What do you mean by? How does this relate to our discussion/ issue? If this is the case, then what else also must be true? Why do you think the assumption holds here? Could anyone else see this another way? Why? Why is this question important?

The participants are first familiarised with the format. They must build on others’ opinions, cite their sources, provide specific examples, and be open-minded. The discussion differs from a debate in that there is no argument and civility is of utmost importance. Participants are asked not to dominate the discussion and to be supportive of friends who are hesitant to join. Hostile exchanges are not permitted. Maintaining eye contact with the person you are talking to and addressing others by their names are encouraged. The participants question each other in a polite manner using appropriate language. They take turns by using turn taking expressions.

The participants sit in two circles, one inside the other. Each participant in the inside circle pairs with a participant from the outside. An ideal Socratic Seminar is with 5-15 people. Those on the inside discuss while the outside follow attentively and send notes to their friend to support them with points for discussion. The circles can switch places during the seminar. Questions about the material or participants’ own experiences are displayed for all to see. The trainer does not participate in the discussion but is responsible for displaying the questions.

The following can trigger discussion of participants’ personal experiences and opinions:

  • What is one specific example of a case where you had to adapt to the school system when it didn’t actually fit your individual features?
  • In retrospect, what do you think are some of the strategies you used to deal with the situation you weren’t comfortable with?
  • What do you think can be done to change the situation that you talked about?
  • Do you believe that it is the teachers’ responsibility to be familiar with students’ extracurricular life?
  • What can be done to prevent unfair treatment of certain students from ‘otherized’ groups in educational settings?
  • Would you be for or against assessing students on their effort rather than performance?
  • What defect is inherent in purely traditional education?


Name of the contributor: Seher Balbay

Institution: Middle East Technical University

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