Friday, July 31, 2015

Socratic Seminars

 Well, this is more of a upper elementary oriented post, although I am for sure going to try and adapt this method with my Kinders somehow! One of my FAVORITE things to do when I taught fifth grade was Socratic seminars... especially during Social studies!

If you don't know what the Socratic method is, it is a teaching method that encourages conversation (not debate) so that students come to a mutual understanding. This is an awesome way to get your kids using their critical thinking skills and an amazing method for teaching speaking and listening skills.

This seminar was about the Trail of Tears. Students Analyzed primary source documents to complete these questions!

When I first started using this method, the reaction that I got was "I thought that was only for high school and college kids!" One thing I learned while teaching fifth grade is that kids can do way more than you'd initially expect them to, especially if you raise the bar high! When I first started this with my students, I shared with them that this was something mostly bigger kids did, and that got them ready for the challenge!

What does it look like in my room?
I use a combination of primary and secondary source documents, along with guiding questions for each. I like when there is a "BIG question" to answer. For example:

  • When we had a Socratic Seminar on Christopher Columbus, the big question was "was Columbus a hero or a villian?" 
  • When we had a Socratic seminar on the lost colony of Roanoke, the big question was "what happened to the colony?" 
  • When we had a seminar on slavery in the southern colonies the big question was "why did plantation owners consider slavery a 'necessary evil'?" That was an interesting one!
  • When we had a seminar on the Puritans, the big question was "why did the Puritans consider themselves a 'City Upon a Hill'? Were the Puritans hypocritical?" YES fifth graders CAN answer that question, and probably better than most adults!
I normally had my kids push their desks out of the way and push their chairs into the circle, but sometimes when the library was available we went there! Sitting in a circle is ideal, because everyone can be seen and heard!

At the beginning of the year, we use the "throw it" method. If a student has something to say, they flip over a green circle and the last person who spoke throws a ball to that person. If students do not want to speak yet, they have their red circle turned over. I do this at the beginning because not all students are comfortable sharing yet, and it is difficult for them to understand the concept of "free talking"! 

To ensure that the same kids don't get called on all the time, I have a student keep "record" of who has already spoken. If I have a student who is really shy and does not want to speak, I allow them to do a written response at the end.

Later in the year, I start doing "free talk". This is where students speak freely after the previous student has finished. This is not easy because kids are afraid to "step on" each other, but they get it eventually! I use the same method of "record keeping" so that we don't have a handful of kids talking all the time!

"Socratic Circle", students are listening and taking notes!

Where to get resources:
A lot of the time, I find primary source documents on my own and draft the Socratic preparation questions. I also use Reading like a Historian by Stanford, which you can visit by clicking here!

The First Seminar:
This past school year, I wanted to do a Socratic seminar that would get my kids excited! I was also asked to create a video of a Socratic seminar for other teachers, and wanted to pick one with content that would be relatable to anyone watching it! So, I developed the Lorax Socratic seminar. If you would like to purchase this seminar, it can be found on my TPT store by clicking the link below!
Grab the Lorax Seminar at my store!
Here are some other Socratic methods that we have done:

  • Fish Bowl: several students sit in a circle and have a discussion regarding a document they have pre-analyzed. These students are the "fish". The students outside of the "fishbowl" cannot speak, they must listen to the conversation going on between the fish. When time is up, the students standing outside the bowl share what they learned. Then, students switch roles and the "observers" become the "fish"!
  • Airplane/ Co-Pilots: Students are paired up in teams of two. The "pilots" sit in the circle and the "co-pilots" sit directly behind their assigned "pilots". The only students allowed to speak are the pilots, but the co-pilots pass notes to the pilots with comments that they would like the pilots to share!

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