BackChannel Suggestions - Socratic methods with students

By David - Jan 2013

A couple of ideas for using your backchannel with your students using the Socratic method. The goal is to create debate amongst the students with them having opposing viewpoints, its all about the students thinking for themselves, not remembering straight facts.

Just to recap, it's called the Socratic method since its based on Socrates' approach of asking questions, so students respond to questions with questions, instead of answers but this can vary if the answer isn't a direct fact.


This approach works best with texts that really invite inquiry - something ambiguous and relatively short. Perhaps a pair of articles / stories that have contrasting views or a controversial article, it needs to invite debate and thinking.

For an example, lets consider how Columbus' discovered America.

The transcript might look something like this:

Teacher: What does it mean to explore ?

The goal is for the students to catch on that we explore to discover new items.

Teacher:  Why do you think people like to explore and discover?

Here we are looking for the students to point out that people are adventurous and seek new lands, some follow ups could be: is this unique to humans?

Teacher: What happens once we've discovered new lands?

Looking for follow ups around topics like creating a settlement, building infrastructure etc. This leads to more follow up topics around land rights, native inhabitants and the effects of them.

Another example might be the text of a book, like George Orwell's 1984:

Teacher: Why does Winston keep a journal of his negative thoughts on Big Brother?

Here we are looking for them to point out that Winston thinks he is along and cannot be seen by his telescreen. But more importantly they should work towards the fact that Winston works at the ministry of truth altering historical facts.

Teacher: Why do the thought police use children to spy on citizens?

Looking for students to understand that children are naive about the party's agenda.

Teacher: What does war is peace, freedom is slavery mean?

Here we are looking for discussions around perpetual war, that if the country is at war, the citizens are more inclined to have an external focus, rather than an internal revolutionary mindset.

With our private messaging tools, you can reach out to students individually and give them little hints to keep the conversation flowing in the direction you want.

Hopefully these short examples can give you some ideas on how to use a backchannel in a Socratic seminar.

Why not give it a try now for free, we provide all the tools needed for educators to hold class Socratic seminars.

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