Recently, I’ve been incorporating the socratic seminar with our class novel, The Crossover. Once you’ve established norms and come up with a guiding question for your socratic seminar (which I discuss in this post), it’s time for students to start thinking critically about the text.
For middle school students, it’s important to break the socratic seminar into parts.
1.) Write the guiding question on the board. Visibility is important for all students, especially if the socratic seminar spans the length of a few days (it will, trust me). I have students write the guiding question in their notebooks, then I encourage them to think about it as they read the day’s selection.
2.) Answer the guiding question independently. This is extremely important for students and for teachers. As a student, it allows them time to grapple with the text on their own terms. For teachers, it helps us see who may need some assistance constructing their answers in the next round. I typically walk around the room and read every response. I note who “got it” and who still needs more help. I also take photos of some exemplar work to show to students who are struggling.
Below are initial responses from two different students. The student on right received sentence starters while the student on the left did not. (note: the guiding question is different because these responses were from different days.) Both students wrote their response independently, but differentiation needed to happen in order to make it accessible to all students.
3.) Discussion. This is what I consider the fun part of the seminar! Since all students have responded to the question, it’s imperative that they are given time to discuss their responses. One person speaks at a time and I chart their responses on the board. This can be done whole-class or in small groups. Once students get the hang of the format, I encourage students to lead the discussions! I invite students to just listen or take notes if they wish. This is also a great time to incorporate accountable talk into conversations. I have “Conversation Moves” that are posted around my classroom so students always preface their response with a sentence starter, such as, “I agree with ________, and would like to add…”. A colleague of mine has sentence stems posted on student desks.
Here’s a sample charting of one of our discussions:
Up Next: How students respond to class discussions.
How do you encourage discussions about text in your classroom? Let me know in the comments!