Socratic seminars are great ways for students to compose their own inquiries and let’s face it – many times it’s the teacher who is asking the questions and the students who are answering them! If you truly want your students to feel involved and invested in a text, then the amount of leg-work you do to get your socratic seminar up-and-running will be well worth it!
Socratic seminars are often used in high school settings, but they can (and do!) work with middle schoolers. You will need to do A LOT of modeling and scaffolding before handing the reigns to the students, but it’s not an unfathomable goal!
How do you prepare middle school students for a Socratic Seminar?
- Define “Socratic Seminar.” Be sure students know what it is and your purpose behind having them participate in it. I have my students create a working definition before we discuss the actual definition, which they all write in their notebooks.
- Create Socratic Seminar Norms. Once students know what a Socratic Seminar is, I have them get into groups and generate a list of 5 norms they think students should follow during the seminars. Each group chooses a few norms to share to the whole class and I frantically chart them on the board. By the end of the day, my board is full of norms from all classes (if norms are repeated, I just put a star next to it). I then take the most popular norms and create a norm anchor chart that is posted for all to see.
- Review Norms. EVERY DAY. With middle school students, it’s important to go over the norms daily. I usually include this in each day’s objective. Something like, “I can follow socratic seminar norms.” We then review the norms and I often choose a one that is our main focus for the day (For example, if the class struggled with the norm of “actively listening” the day prior, I would choose that as a focal norm.) Always remind the student that they created these norms. Give them ownership and they will take it!
- Come up with one guiding question. I start with one question I want the students to think about as they read. This question should be rather open-ended and I always include the words, “cite evidence” at the end. Until my students get the hang of citing evidence to support their responses, I must add this piece! Once students have read the day’s selection, they answer the guiding question.
- Answering the guiding question. This is where differentiation plays a HUGE role. Some of my students struggle with writing in complete sentences, so I provide sentence starters for them. Some students may even need graphic organizers to chunk each part of the response. Other students will need help citing evidence, so I give them a list of verbs and phrases to use in their response. Most students in middle school will need practice and modeling on expanding their responses, so I always, always write a response along with them under the document camera so they have a concrete example.Regardless of how students are approaching the question, the end goal is that they are answering the question, providing evidence and explaining how the evidence proves their response.
Do you use socratic seminars with your students? What are some of your tips? Tell me in the comments!
Up next – How students discuss text in a Socratic Seminar!