Preparing For A Socratic Seminar

14 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Using the vignette "And Some More" from The House On Mango Street, SWBAT develop a set of practice questions for upcoming Socratic Seminar.

Big Idea

"Wisdom begins in wonder" (Socrates): Teaching students to wonder about a text through questions of their own.

Writer's Mini Workshop: "Who Do You Love?" Paragraphs

20 minutes

Today I introduce my students to what I call a writer's mini workshop.  I explain that any student (up to three, for the sake of time) who would like specialized attention and who would like to contribute to helping us all become better writers may volunteer to place their paragraphs about someone they love (the homework from the previous lesson) on the document camera and read it to us, thus allowing for a "writer-to-writer" comment session.  

After each student shares, I ask for "Any comments directed towards the writer?" and when a student raises his/her hand, I ask "Writer-to-writer, what would you like to say to (the student who has shared the paragraph)?"  I like to keep the word "writer" in as much circulation as possible, for I believe it encourages students to own the title.  As comments are shared, I use a highlighter to record them directly on the paragraph.  For example, if someone shares that a particular description works well, I highlight it and put a "+" or even a happy face next to it.  If someone determines that a particular description needs more details, I draw an arrow and write "more details, please" in the margin.

When all comments have been shared, I do a second read through of the paragraph while it is still on the document camera, addressing and correcting with the highlighter any mechanical or grammatical errors (Sample Student Paragraph).  This must be handled with care, so as to not discourage any student from ever sharing again. I usually find much to celebrate around the content of the shared paragraphs, and remind students that their work is still very rough, at best, and that it is expected to have mistakes.  I thank each student who has volunteered his/her paragraph for the opportunity they have given us all to become better writers.


Focus on Vignette #16: "And Some More" (The House On Mango Street)

20 minutes

After the mini writer's workshop, we again turn our attention to The House On Mango Street, specifically to vignette #16, "And Some More."  This is a fun vignette to read aloud in class because students generally find it funny.

After a student volunteer reads the vignette aloud, I ask students to share what has become customary by now: any inferences,  author voice and tone, mood, etc.  Through this point in the text, my students have been trained to actively make inferences and to support any and all claims with evidence from the text.  They are beginning to understand that it is expected of them, if they are to become more efficient readers.  The result of this training should be that they apply this skill to all future texts they encounter, both within and outside of my classroom.

Students are often confused with the litany of names that runs through the vignette, and so I direct them to the moment in it when Nenny starts naming the clouds and explain that it is most likely her voice that provides the "background noise" of names as the other girls verbally spar. Additionally, students rarely pronounce "cumulus" correctly, thereby indicating an unawareness that there are names for different kinds of clouds.  Thus, I often show my students the attached resource, a picture of cumulus clouds, to help them better visualize the scenario of the vignette. 

Introduction To Socratic Seminar

30 minutes

Once I feel that my students have discussed the vignette sufficiently, I explain to them that we will use the vignette to practice preparing for something we will be doing in class tomorrow (Introducing Socratic Seminar). 

I distribute to each student the handout "How To Prepare and Participate in Socratic Seminar" and ask a student to read the first two paragraphs on the front of the handout.  I find that most of my students have already participated in some form of the Socratic Seminar in previous classes (usually as "fishbowl" discussions), and so the concept does not usually require explanation beyond what I have included on the handout.

Officially incorporating the Socratic Seminar into my classroom is, in my view, the equivalent of opening night.  If the myriad classroom discussions we have had thus far are the dress rehearsals for encouraging my students to think for themselves, then the Socratic Seminar is where they demonstrate just how well they are able to think for themselves, without the safety net of my redirection.  

I will usually read/review the "Guidelines . . ." and "Expectations . . ." portions myself, so that I can emphasize and/or elaborate on any points, if necessary.  I explain to students that because this will be their first Socratic Seminar with me, I will not deduct points for not participating orally, as long as respectful listening is maintained (this will not be the case for the next seminar we conduct).

I then direct their attention the the back of the handout, marked "Pre-Seminar Question-Writing."  I ask a student to read aloud the information in the box at the top, so that everyone has heard what is required as homework (I have selected these four vignettes specifically for the common thread of Esperanza's "coming of age" that is evident in them).

Finally, in order to provide my students with a sample question in each category, and to give them practice at creating the required question types, we spend what is left of the period coming up with questions for the vignette "And Some More" as a whole class.  Using the lines provided on the handout, my students record at least one sample question for each category that they can reference as they create new questions for the four vignettes they will read for homework.