Be kind to everyone you meet.
You may never see them again.

Write to be read - be better than you need to be!

  • Dialogue is collaborative. Multiple sides work towards shared understanding.
  • Debate is appositional. Two opposing sides try to prove each other wrong.
  • In dialogue, one listens to understand, to make meaning, and to find common ground.
  • In debate, one listens to find flaws, to spot differences, and to counter arguments.
  • Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participant's view.
  • Debate affirms a participant's point of view.
  • Dialogue reveals assumptions for reevaluation.
  • Debate defends assumptions as truth.
  • Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude, an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
  • Debate creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to be right.
  • In dialogue, one submits one's best thinking, expecting that the reflections of others will help improve it rather than threaten it.
  • In debate, one submits one's best thinking and defends it against a challenge to show that it is right.
  • In dialogue, one searches for the strengths in all positions.
  • In debate, one searches for the weaknesses in the other positions.
  • Dialogue respects all the other participants and seeks not to alienate or offend.
  • Debate rebuts contrary positions and may belittle or deprecate other participants.
  • Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of answers and that cooperation can lead to workable solutions.
  • Debate assumes a single right answer that someone already has.
  • Dialogue remains open-ended.
  • Debate demands a conclusion.

from: Peter Winchell, Consultant. Socratic Seminars West.

Talk on Socratic dialogues


SD - is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas


The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances.

In philosophy, an aporia is a philosophical puzzle or a seemingly insoluble impasse in an inquiry, often arising as a result of equally plausible yet inconsistent premises. It can also denote the state of being perplexed, or at a loss, at such a puzzle or impasse. The notion of an aporia is principally found in Greek philosophy, but it also plays a role in post-structuralist philosophy, as in the writings of Derrida and Irigaray, and it has also served as an instrument of investigation in analytic philosophy.


Socratic Dialogues


Ethical code

Educational value of Socratic dialogues

Using Socratic Dialogues to improve students’ thinking skills


a)       Introduction and thesis

b)      Background – history of SDs


The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, Socratic irony, orSocratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.[1] It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defence of one point of view is pitted against the defence of another; one participant may lead another to contradict him in some way, strengthening the inquirer's own point. (Think about the question before you speak.)

The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances. The extent to which this method is employed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, is called the method of maieutics. Aristotleattributed to Socrates the discovery of the method of definition and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method. Perhaps oddly, however, Aristotle also claimed that this method is not suitable for ethics.[citation needed]

Socrates began to engage in such discussions with his fellow Athenians after his friend from youth, Chaerephon, visited the Oracle of Delphi, which confirmed that no man in Greece was wiser than Socrates. Socrates saw this as a paradox, and began using the Socratic method to answer his conundrum. Diogenes Laertius, however, wrote that Protagoras invented the “Socratic” method.[2][3]

Plato famously formalized the Socratic elenctic style in prose—presenting Socrates as the curious questioner of some prominent Athenian interlocutor—in some of his early dialogues, such as Euthyphro and Ion, and the method is most commonly found within the so-called "Socratic dialogues", which generally portray Socrates engaging in the method and questioning his fellow citizens about moral and epistemological issues.

The term Socratic questioning is used to describe a kind of questioning in which an original question is responded to as though it were an answer. This in turn forces the first questioner to reformulate a new question in light of the progress of the discourse.


History of the Socratic method

An ancient form of discourse, the Socratic method is over 2400 years old and is reportedly founded on Socrates’ belief that lecture was not an effective method of teaching all students. According to Matt Copeland, Socrates valued the knowledge and understanding already present within people and thought that using this knowledge could potentially be beneficial in advancing their understanding. Copeland explains, “by helping students examine their premonitions and beliefs while at the same time accepting the limitations of human thought, Socrates believed students could improve their reasoning skills and ultimately move toward more rational thinking and ideas more easily supported with logic.”1

The term ‘Socratic seminar’ appears to have first been used by the Great Books Program founder Scott Buchanan in his work with the St. John’s College New Program, and the concept has been popularized by organizations such as The Center for Socratic Practice, the Touchstones Project, Junior Great Books, the National Paideia Center, and the Coalition of Essential Schools.

Lynda Tredway explains that although this type of teaching practice has been explored throughout history, this teaching technique was reintroduced in the 1980s, as part of Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal for comprehensive school reform.2


The Socratic method in practice

In the Socratic method of education, teachers engage students by asking questions that require generative answers. Ideally, the answers to questions are not a stopping point for thought but are instead a beginning to further analysis and research. Teachers can use the Socratic method in a variety of subject areas and across grade levels in order to challenge students to examine both contemporary and historical issues. In modeling the practice of Socrates, the teacher questions students in a manner that requires them to consider how they rationalize and respond about topics. Copeland explains that it is important for teachers to clarify that these questions are not intended to create an environment of judgment, but rather to help students “examine their attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and logic.”3 The goal of the Socratic method is to help students process information and engage in deeper understanding of topics. Most importantly, Socratic teaching engages students in dialogue and discussion that is collaborative and open-minded as opposed to debate, which is often competitive and individualized.

Ideally, teachers develop open-ended questions about texts and encourage students to use textual evidence to support their opinions and answers. In the Socratic seminar, the teacher uses questions to guide discussion around specific learning goals. It is imperative for teachers to “establish guidelines to help students understand their roles and responsibilities” in the Socratic discussion.4 “Socratic questioning is a systematic process for examining the ideas, questions, and answers that form the basis of human belief. It involves recognizing that all new understanding is linked to prior understanding, that thought itself is a continuous thread woven throughout lives rather than isolated sets of questions and answers.”5


Socratic circles

Socratic circles can be used to engage in the Socratic method in various subjects. Typically, when participating in Socratic circle activities, students first read a passage critically and then form two concentric circles. First, the inner circle examines and discusses the text and the second circle comments on the quality of the dialogue. Then, the two circles switch places and roles, and the process is repeated with the new ideas from a new circle. The outer circle is required to remain quiet while the inner circle reacts and dialogues, and conversely, the inner circle must listen quietly to the outer circle’s evaluation of their conversation.

Copeland explains that Socratic circles “turn partial classroom control, classroom direction, and classroom governance over to students by creating a truly equitable learning community where the weight and value of student voices and teacher voices are indistinguishable from each other.” Copeland suggests that Socratic circles help to develop “critical and creative thinking skills that will ultimately facilitate their growth and development into productive, responsible citizens.”6

According to Copeland, Socratic circles encourage students to “work cooperatively to construct meaning from what they have read and avoid focusing on a ‘correct’ interpretation of the text.”7


Typically, Socratic circles must include a short passage of text in which students have already given a critical read, and two concentric circles of students — one circle focusing on exploring the meaning expressed in the text and a second circle observing the conversation.8
Basic structure:

1.     Teacher assigns a short passage of text the day prior to the Socratic circle activity.

2.     Students read, analyze, and take notes individually.

3.     Students are divided into two circles.

4.     The inner circle reads the passage aloud and discusses the text for about ten minutes, while the outer circle silently observes.

5.     The outer circle evaluates the inner circle’s conversation and provides feedback to the inner circle.

6.     Students switch circles.

7.     The new inner circle discusses the text for approximately ten minutes and then is given ten minutes of feedback by the outer circle.

Socratic Seminars

Lynda Tredaway describes the Socratic seminar as “a form of structured discourse about ideas and moral dilemmas.”9According to Tredway, the Socratic seminar is a 50-80 minute discussion in which 25 or fewer students react to a novel, poem, essay, document, or art reproduction. Students engaging in Socratic seminar generally sit in a circle and do not raise their hands to speak; instead, they make eye contact and observe body language in order to learn the cues for engaging in discussion.

In the Socratic seminar, the teacher usually provides questions that require students “to evaluate options and make decisions.” When Socratic seminars engage students in active learning, they “develop knowledge, understanding, and ethical attitudes and behaviors, they are more apt to retain these attributes than if they had received them passively.”10Proponents of this teaching methodology propose that it also has the potential for character and communication development in addition to facilitating the improvement of self-esteem.


Socratic Seminars

"The unexamined life is not worth living."



The Socratic method of teaching is based on Socrates' theory that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves than to merely fill their heads with "right" answers. Therefore, he regularly engaged his pupils in dialogues by responding to their questions with questions, instead of answers. This process encourages divergent thinking rather than convergent.

Students are given opportunities to "examine" a common piece of text, whether it is in the form of a novel, poem, art print, or piece of music. After "reading" the common text "like a love letter", open-ended questions are posed.

Open-ended questions allow students to think critically, analyze multiple meanings in text, and express ideas with clarity and confidence. After all, a certain degree of emotional safety is felt by participants when they understand that this format is based on dialogue and not discussion/debate.

Dialogue is exploratory and involves the suspension of biases and prejudices. Discussion/debate is a transfer of information designed to win an argument and bring closure. Americans are great at discussion/debate. We do not dialogue well. However, once teachers and students learn to dialogue, they find that the ability to ask meaningful questions that stimulate thoughtful interchanges of ideas is more important than "the answer."

Participants in a Socratic Seminar respond to one another with respect by carefully listening instead of interrupting. Students are encouraged to "paraphrase" essential elements of another's ideas before responding, either in support of or in disagreement. Members of the dialogue look each other in the "eyes" and use each other names. This simple act of socialization reinforces appropriate behaviors and promotes team building.


Pre-Seminar Question-Writing:
 Before you come to a Socratic Seminar class,  please read the assigned text (novel section, poem, essay, article, etc.) and write at least one question in each of the following categories:

        Write a question connecting the text to the real world. 

        Example:  If you were given only 24 hours to pack your most precious
belongings  in a back pack  and to get ready to leave your home town, what
might you pack?  (After reading the first 30 pages of NIGHT).

        Write  a question about the text that will help everyone in the
class come to an agreement about events or characters in the text. This
question usually has a "correct" answer.

         Example:  What happened to Hester Pyrnne's husband that she was
left alone in Boston without family?  (after the first 4 chapters of THE

         Write an insightful question about the text that will require proof
and group discussion and "construction of logic" to discover or explore the
answer to the question.

          Example: Why did Gene hesitate to reveal the truth about the
accident to Finny that first day in the infirmary? (after mid-point of  A

          Write a question dealing with a theme(s) of the text that will
encourage group discussion about the universality of the text.

           Example: After reading John Gardner's GRENDEL, can you pick out its existential elements?

LITERARY ANALYSIS QUESTION: Write a question dealing with HOW an author
chose to compose a literary piece.  How did the author manipulate point of
view, characterization, poetic form, archetypal hero patterns, for example?

          Example: In MAMA FLORA'S FAMILY, why is it important that the
story is told through flashback?


Socratic Circles


Class Setup and Procedures for Socratic Discussion

Students are arranged in two concentric circles. The inner circle contains the speakers who will be involved in the discussion; each student must contribute. The outer circle contains the listeners.  Students in the outer circle are not to speak, but only to listen to the discussion.


Important: Two empty seats are reserved in the inner circle.


Students in the outer circle have the option of joining the inner circle when:

1) the discussion appears to be off topic.

2) the discussion becomes nonproductive with arguments and "put downs."

3) inner circle members have not discussed an area deemed important.


(Once a student takes an empty seat, he or she must stay for the remainder of the discussion. When both empty seats are taken, the inner circle is complete. Students must weigh whether they really want to enter the inner circle)


Responsibilities of the inner circle members

Students are to clear desks and display only prepared answers to the discussion questions.  (No pencil or pen is allowed.) Students, not the teacher, determine the first speaker. A student enters the discussion only when the previous speaker indicates that he or she has finished.


Circle members decide how the discussion proceeds. For example, students may

            choose to speak in sequence around the circle.

            decide to appoint a discussion leader.

            let each speaker choose the next participant.



Follow-up questions may be asked by inner circle members; for example:

            What do you mean by...?

            Where in the text do you find support for that?

            Would someone take issue with....

            What is your point?

            Are you saying that...?           

When a student opts to take an empty seat, he or she becomes the next speaker.


The final responsibility of the inner circle members:

1) Come to a consensus on each question


2) Simply make sure each member has had an opportunity to discuss answers to the assigned questions, and then perhaps agree to disagree.



Responsibilities of the outer circle members

To ensure the practice of good listening skills, students are required to        submit to the teacher their written responses to the discussion questions            before the inner circle begins the discussion.(Otherwise, students tend to compare their work with the ongoing discussion.)

If the inner circle decides to reach a consensus, students of the outer circle are required to summarize and record the consensus; OR, if the inner circle members decide to simply share ideas and opinions in response to the discussion questions, students in the outer circle are to script as much of the discussion content as possible as the discussion evolves.  At the end of the discussion, outer-circle students are to highlight or circle any words or phrases they believe to be important.  If outer circle students have a hard time hearing inner circle students, a simple raising of the hand from an outer circle student can direct an inner circle student to speak up. The final activity required of outer circle members is to share their summaries or key words and phrases with the students of the inner circle.(Students of the inner circle cannot comment; they become the listeners!)


Important: Students switch positions during the discussion so that all members of the class have a chance at both positions. For example, Group A might be the inner circle for the first half of the discussion, and might discuss questions 1,3,5,7,and 9; at the conclusion of A's discussion, Group B (the outer circle) would summarize and respond.  Then, the students would switch positions, so that Group B is now the inner circle and Group A forms the outer circle. Group B would then discuss questions 2,4,6,8, and 10. Make certain that you divide the three types of questions evenly between Group A and Group B, so that each group begins with Intersentence questions, moves on to Text questions, and finally responds to Beyond-Text questions. You may have both groups discuss the last question, as it is the most intriguing or inviting.


Responsibilities of the teacher

Select appropriate and interesting material for discussion

Prepare the discussion questions for the assigned topic or lead class in

inquiry to create their own questions.

During the Socratic Discussion, keep silent unless disorder occurs or students fail to detect an off-topic event. (The role of the teacher is similar to that of a "Sergeant at Arms" in a courtroom--no verbal or nonverbal feedback, no directions once the discussion begins.)


Possible Assessment and Evaluation

1) Students' created questions.

2) Students' labeling of types and selection for discussion.

3) Students' written responses to the three types of questions.

4) Inner Circle members' use of effective discussion skills. (Criteria to be determined by teacher and students before the SD.)

5) Outer Circle members' use of active listening skills. (Criteria to be determined by teacher and students before the SD.)

6) Summaries or scripts of Outer Circle members at the end of the SD.

7) Students' abilities to sincerely add to the group's success.(Criteria to be determined by the teacher and students before the SD.)


Critical Thinking Questions:  What Would Socrates Ask?

Clarity: Could you elaborate further? Could you give me an example?

Accuracy: How can we determine if that is true? How can we verify your


Precision: Could you be more specific? Could you provide more details?

Relevance: How does that relate to the issue? How does that align with the


Depth: What are some of the complexities of this question? What factors

need to be considered?

Breadth: Do we need to consider another point of view? Do we need to look

at this from a different perspective?

Logic: Does what you say follow from the evidence? Does all of this make


Significance: Is this the central idea? Is this the most important issue to


The goal of the Socratic Method of inquiry is for you as students to think

for yourselves rather than just learn “right” answers. 

Adapted from Dr. Richard Paul, Director of the Foundation for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State





What is Socratic questioning?

Changing Minds – Socratic questions

6 types of Socratic questions

Why use Socratic questioning?

How to use the Socratic method in the classroom

Taxonomy of Socratic questions

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Socratic questioning – theoretical

Great Garlikov – The Socratic Method – Teaching by asking instead of telling

Using the Socratic Method – a letter

Rick Garlikov

 Robert L. Fielding

Plato and other philosophers

Republic - Texts in translation by Jowett

Other texts – other writers – Internet Sacred Text Archive

Plato – The state and the soul

Guide to the study of philosophy – a good guide for students


Assembled Western philosophers – link to bios and texts

History of Western philosophy

Dictionary of philosophical terms and their uses