The Socratic method of teaching is an approach to teaching that you can implement into your homeschool lessons. In this post we’ll discuss what is the Socratic method, how to use Socratic questioning, and advantages and disadvantages of Socratic method teaching. You’ll also learn about the 5 types of Socratic questions and how to use them.
What is the Socratic Method?
The Socratic method is an approach to education using questioning to develop critical thinking skills. The Socratic Method was first used by the Greek philosopher Socrates who wanted to guide his students in understanding their own beliefs and presuppositions and to identify contradictions in their own thinking. The goal of the Socratic Method is not to teach people what to think but to help them form their own ideas and reach their own conclusions.
While this method is attributed to Socrates, his student Plato preserved it in writing. Plato’s writings are part of the genre called Socratic Dialogues. Within the dialogue, Socrates converses with characters by asking questions.
The Socratic Method of teaching develops critical thinking skills and allows children to actively participate in their learning. Instead of just listening to a lecture, students learn how to evaluate their own thoughts and form their own conclusions. Socratic questioning helps kids clarify their ideas and exposes what they think and believe.
How to Use the Socratic Method
Using the Socratic Method involves preparation on the part of the teacher or homeschool parent. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you want to try the Socratic method with your child:
- Study the lesson or topic well.
- Prepare some initial questions. (Reference the types of questions listed below to curate a variety of questions.)
- Keep the conversation on topic.
- Focus on one argument or line of thought.
- Let questions flow organically and ask follow-up questions on answers given.
- Leave questions open-ended. Don’t use yes or no questions.
- Use questions that are age-appropriate for your child.
- Let your child ask you questions!
- Be honest with your children when you don’t know the answer.
You’ll also want to help your child prepare for the lesson. You don’t want them to feel overwhelmed or discouraged by the number of questions you ask. Let them know that the purpose of the questions is to help them develop critical thinking. Encourage them to be honest and as clear as possible with their answers. This exercise is not to prove your child wrong or to get to a “correct” answer, so they shouldn’t be afraid to say what they think.
Socratic Questioning in Practice
Socratic questioning involves a process. It is not a random assortment of questions. You should plan how you want to lead the dialogue with your child to dig deeper into the argument. Remember, this is not an interrogation! You want it to be conversational by listening to your child and thoughtfully responding to their answers. You can ask students questions like:
- What was the main point of the lesson?
- How do you think the author feels about the topic?
- What do you think are the strengths of the author’s argument?
- Is there anything you disagree with?
These questions encourage your kids to learn with an open mind. Instead of just reading and then forgetting the information, Socratic questioning asks them to evaluate the lesson as well as to recognize their own response to the material.
When to Use Socratic Questioning
Basic Socratic questioning works well for young students. A couple of simple follow-up questions are sufficient at an elementary level. As students mature in their education, they’ll be able to handle more complex and prying questions.
You can involve multiple children when using Socratic questioning. Traditional classrooms use the Socratic method by questioning one student in front of the class. The other students learn from watching the exchange. Having siblings watch or participate in the Socratic method also helps them learn and gives younger children the opportunity to offer insights into the dialogue as well.
Disadvantages of Socratic Questioning
Each child must actively engage with the questions and answer them thoughtfully during Socratic dialogue. If your child does not respond well to questions, the exercise won’t have much benefit. Some children may also struggle with the fact that there may be more than one right answer.
Advantages of Socratic Questioning
Using the Socratic method develops critical thinking skills. As your children begin to think about their own reasoning and arguments, they develop their ability to draw logical connections and conclusions. Socratic questioning also encourages students to be able to think and respond quickly. Kids can also participate in the learning process. They won’t be sitting and listening. They will have to think for themselves and not just recite someone else’s opinions.
Socratic Seminars and Higher Education
Socratic seminars are a way to implement the Socratic method into a classroom setting. These seminars are often implemented in law schools. If you have children considering law school, using the Socratic method is a great way to prepare them. Lawyers need to be able to think quickly and see the different sides of an argument. Although the Socratic questioning in higher education is going to be more intense, starting while they are younger will give them a good foundation.
5 Socratic Questions
There are five types of Socratic questions:
- Questions for clarification
- What do you mean by that?
- Can you give me an example?
- How is this related to the topic?
- Could you rephrase that?
- Questions that probe assumptions
- Where do you get that belief/thinking from?
- What would change your thinking on this?
- Do you agree or disagree with . . .?
- What are the exceptions to this thinking?
- Questions that probe reasons and evidence
- How did you come to that conclusion?
- Where are getting evidence from?
- What do you think causes this to happen? Why?
- Questions about viewpoints and perspectives
- What’s another way you could think about this?
- Why is this the best way?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of . . .?
- Questions that probe implications and consequences
- If you believe . . . what does that entail?
- How does this apply to other people?
- Does this relate to anything else you’ve learned?