Conducting Our First Socratic Seminar

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SWBAT conduct a Socratic Seminar by sustaining an extended dialogue around four vignettes from The House On Mango Street through student-generated questions.

Big Idea

Students take the lead and dictate the discourse around a text.

Vocabulary Four Review and Concept Wheel Homework

20 minutes

A review of the week's vocabulary words (Vocabulary #4) begins the lesson for today.  This week's words include anecdote (a technique we noticed in the essay "Black Men and Public Space"), allusion (a technique we noticed in the vignette "There Was An Old Woman . . ." in The House On Mango Street), and Socrates (selected, as I explained to my students, because I heard the name mispronounced by my students many times in the previous lesson).  The remaining words are all student-selected, through their required highlighting, from the essay "What Great Writing  Can Teach Us About Trayvon Martin."

The homework assignment for this week is to create ten "concept wheels," using each vocabulary word.  This is in part due to the limited time devoted to vocabulary in class today, because of the Socratic Seminar, as well as to my commitment to experiment with a number of vocabulary activities to curtail monotony.

Socratic Seminar

50 minutes

As we move into the Socratic Seminar, I take the first 8-10 minutes to review the guidelines with my students.  I remind them that it is up to them to present one or some of their questions to the group, and that whomever responds must be mindful of not speaking over someone else.  I remind them to avoid interrupting each other, and that their goal is to "dialogue" about the text, not debate.  I remind them to link their responses to the text as much as possible, and that if the dialogue starts to wander off-topic, that someone will need to pull it back into focus.  Finally, I tell them that with the number of questions that the group is prepared with, they should not have to suffer a lull in the conversation--if a question seems sufficiently discussed, then it is up to someone to introduce a new question (Student Seminar Questions).

I then explain that momentarily, I will "go silent" and turn the time over to them.  I do add that if I have to step in and regulate, then that is an indication that the seminar has gone awry.  I ask for any final questions, and when there are no more, the seminar begins.

I allow this first seminar to continue for about 30-35 minutes.  As students are participating in the seminar, I am walking on the outside of the circle, listening and checking off students as they participate.  As mentioned in the previous lesson, there is no penalty this time for not adding anything to the discussion, so long as respectful listening is maintained.

I stop the seminar when there is around 5-7 minutes left of class.  I ask my students to share any thoughts on the process with the whole group, and I share with them what I thought were any highlights or areas of concern.

The format of the Socratic Seminar is by no means new to education, but it is very much a practice that supports certain key shifts in the Common Core Standards, through the structure of student-led inquiry and text-based answers.  If the seminar is conducted properly, then students engage in rich and rigorous evidence-based conversations about the text (Students in Socratic Seminar).