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Socratic Seminar 

Socratic Seminar is a type of class discussion that promotes critical reading skills as well as higher-level thinking and questioning skills. Students use a text or texts either provided by the teacher or researched material that they find relating to the topic of discussion.  The read the text or texts using critical reading skills in order to gain a deeper understanding of the material and to prepare for discussion.  On the day of the seminar, students come prepared with questions which both clarify and prompt discussion.  The style of Socratic Seminar is DISCUSSION based; it IS NOT A DEBATE.  The ultimate purpose is for the students to comprehend the text on a deeper level by having a dialogue with their peers using the material.
 
There are a few main set-ups for this type of discussion.
 
1. One big circle
This type of set-up works best with small groups of students, perhaps ranging from a handful of students to a maximum of about 15.  The whole-group circle can be used with larger groups, but it loses its effectiveness when there are too many in the group.
 
2. Fish Bowl
This type of set-up works for any classroom.  In this set-up, there are two circles: an inner circle and an outer circle. It is best to split the students evenly into each circle. The students in the center circle are those actually participating in the discussion while those in the outer circle are observing and can participate in the discussion when necessary by using the "hot seat" (an empty seat in the inner circle).  Students who are observing sit directly behind one of the people in the inner circle - if you don't have an even number of students just assign two outer circle students to one inner circle student. It is beneficial to have the outer circle students take notes or fill out observation forms as they inner circle participants discuss.  Also, you can switch the inner and outer circles half way through your allotted time for the seminar in order to have everyone participate in the inner circle.
 
3. Wingman
This type of set-up works well if you have many students who are shy or not as willing to speak in front of the group.  It is similar to the Fish Bowl method in that there is an inner and outer circle of students; however, with this set up, instead of having a 1:1 ratio, now there is a 2:1 ratio.  There should be 2 outer circle students for each inner circle participant.  These 2 act as "wing men" for the inner circle participant by sitting behind one by each shoulder. They can silently participate by passing notes (sticky notes work well) or they can more actively participate by integrating pauses in the discussion where the inner circle participant can have a small group conversation with the wing men.  Usually the more shy students will feel comfortable enough passing a note or speaking to just a couple people thereby still having their ideas heard by the group via the inner circle participant.
 
The Socratic Seminar method is interesting because it is really a student-led discussion.  Using their knowledge gained through critical reading, and perhaps research, they facilitate the discussion with their higher-level discussion questions.
 
If you would like to know more about this method of discussion, there are many resources on-line that are more detailed and provide actual information on how to best run a seminar, how to set up the seminar, and what resources you can use for observation and feedback. 

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