Socratic Seminars {The Run Down} with Lesson and Freebie

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Whether you prefer a socratic seminar, or literature circle, or a group discussion, there is now a big push for higher level thinking and discussion in the classroom. The allure of the socratic seminar stems from the student-centered learning, however many people have different views on how to implement one in the classroom.

This is exactly how I rolled out a socratic seminar to my students and it went fabulously... with a few kinks of course.

Step 1: Student Role Folders

Once I created all of the rubrics and made student handouts that combined aspects from different sources, I put together student folders! I love folders.... I created folders for each student role during the socratic seminar.

You can print these on Avery shipping labels 10 per page {5163} OR on paper. You can cut and then tape to each folder. Which ever you prefer!

Once they are on the folders, it makes the students feel professional! I had an extra box of light blue folders, so I used them for this. 

There are four main roles: Inner Circle, Outer Circle, Leader, Time Keeper

In each folder there is a description of their role, rubrics, sentence starters, ground rules and goals. Students have everything they need before beginning and the only thing you have to do is provide the text each time, along with a few discussion questions if you prefer. 

Step 2: Finding the Right Rubrics and Handouts 

I'm sure if you Google or Pinterest, "Socratic Seminar Rubrics", you will find tons of different handouts that are perfectly fine. I tailored these to work best in my classroom, as one of my goals was to keep my students on-task, respectful, and accountable. Yes, the goal of a Socratic seminar is rigorous, higher level thinking, but as you know students are easily distracted and the conversation can drift very quickly. 

You can use just the rubrics and student handouts, especially if you have done a socratic seminar before BUT if this is your first time... I suggest the implementation guide!
Check back for updates....

Step 3: Roll Out Lessons and Pre-work 

In order to have a successful first socratic seminar, you have to lay the foundation down. My students had no idea what a socratic seminar was... so I showed them!

Click here to download the roll out lesson! Role Out Lesson from Dropbox

I like the second clip as an introductory tool. It really does a great job of describing the origins and the main components. In my implementation guide, I include a full ELA lesson for introducing the concept. I go through the rubrics, handouts, expectations, and of course the ground rules. 

On day two, whether that is the next day or next lesson, I think it's a great time to read the first text together as a class. For the first socratic seminar, I wanted to give them a piece they could really pull a part and form different opinions on. 

We are currently working on a social inequity unit and examining how literacy and social media are aiding in the fight against social injustices. I used an article from If you have not used NewsELA before, let me be the first to tell you it's AMAZING! Why might you ask? NewsELA has current event articles available on a variety of lexile levels, which makes it easy to give all of your students the same article! It also provides, quizzes, writing prompts, and photos. They also have text sets that accompany popular novels, or you can create your own to work with a particular theme or unit.


Before students begin the discussion, they need to be familiar and comfortable with the text. You can use a news article, your current novel, a topic in social studies or science, or even a complex math problem for a socratic seminar. In my implementation guide, I have a sample lesson for an article entitled, "For black kids, suspensions start as soon as preschool, study says" from NewsELA. The same article is available on 760L (4th grade), 930L (6th grade), 1060L (7th grade), 1200L (9th grade), and MAX (12th grade). I used the first three versions in my 5th grade classroom and it was pretty successful. 

Students read, annotated, and answered a few questions independently before turning and talking to discuss the article. After this, I passed out the folders. This is when my students know whether they will be discussing in the inner circle, or observing from the outer circle. 

Step 4: It's Time! Your First Socratic Seminar 

Here are my students during their first (and second) socratic seminar. I used a "fishbowl" method, with an inner and outer circle, because I have a large class. They really enjoyed the discussion, but it took them a while to warm up to the idea of just talking without raising their hands. I have my time keeper set the timer (usually my phone) for 10 minutes. 

Once the timer goes off, my students fill out a reflection forms. The forms are different for the inner and outer circles and I collect these as part of their grades.

Check back for updates as I will be posting the rubrics and implementation guide very soon!

In case you missed it, here are the freebies folder labels and the role out lesson.
Click Here to Download the Labels!
Roll Out Lesson for Socratic Seminar


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