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Socratic Seminars

Socratic Seminars are a highly motivating form of intellectual and scholarly discourse conducted in K-12 classrooms. They usually range from 30 to 50 minutes–longer if time allows–once a week. Socratic Seminars grew out of the early work of Mortimer Adler and the Great Books program. The National Paideia Center continues today to promote socratic discussions in the form of Paideia seminars. The Touchstones Discussion Project has similar roots and is a leader in the production of outstanding texts for Socratic Seminars.

An effective Socratic Seminar creates dialogue as opposed to debate. Dialogue creates “better conversation.” As William Issacs states in Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, dialogue is a conversation in which people (students) think together in relationship. Thinking together implies that you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others—possibilities that might not otherwise have occurred.”

The practice of Socratic Seminars teaches students to recognize the differences between dialogue and debate and to strive to increase the qualities of dialogue and reduce the qualities of debate in each Socratic Seminar.

Socratic Seminar Trainings…


Introduction to Socratic Seminars takes about two hours, half devoted to a Socratic Seminar and half spent on a critique and a discussion of the implications for schooling. The 15 to 25 seminar participants can be students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, board members, or some combination of these groups. The workshop may be videotaped or may be observed by as many as 200 people in an audience.


Most participants gain the confidence and skill needed to lead Socratic Seminars after 50 to 60 hours of experience. These workshops comprise about half the needed preparations; the rest must come in follow-up seminars with students and fellow teachers and in peer coaching sessions with consultants and colleagues. The workshop provides intensive practice, with a major seminar daily, plus reflective critiques and questioning exercises that develop the skills of seminar leadership. The workshop is experiential, with emphasis on guided practice in active learning.

A workshop can be specialized (e.g. by grade-level-subject) or can accommodate a diverse mix of people (i.e. teachers form various subject and grade levels; administrators; other educators; and volunteers) School-based teams that return to their schools and work together for mutual support are more effective than individual teachers alone.

3. Teaching Critical Thinking Skills though Active Learning, Cooperative Learning, and Socratic Questioning Strategies Workshop One day (7 contact hours)

Participants can expect the following outcomes from this highly interactive professional development workshop:

  • Recognize and create powerful questions using Bloom’s Higher Order Thinking Skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
  • Gain understanding and learn to apply Habits of Mind that teach for understanding
  • Learn today to set up cooperative learning teams in your classroom that work for students of all levels
  • Practice and come away with active learning strategies that motivate students to learn in pairs and in small groups
  • Use powerful discussion protocols that increase involvement and learning for all students
  • Learn how Essential Questions increase student engagement and critical thinking skills
  • Access Divergent Thinking Models that activate student creativity
  • Practice Socratic Questioning Strategies that foster critical thinking skills

Resource Link: www.socraticseminars.com

Oscar Graybill, Director



514 S. Division St.

Walla Walla



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