A socratic seminar can take different forms from class to class, but each resembles the following basic structure:
- A small group of students shares an experience, such as a piece of entertainment or informative media.
- In front of the class, they get together as a panel of presenters, each demonstrating that they have knowledge of the shared experience and can share their opinions on it.
- They may present their information formally, one by one, or via conversation with each other.
- They field questions from each other and, most importantly, the surrounding class. This is not a debate, but an exploration of the topic.
In a public speaking course, students are graded on their demonstration of knowledge and opinion — its delivery, structure, and credibility shown — and their prompt and thorough answering of questions.
The following represents an example of simple instructions for a panel discussion or socratic seminar assignment:
You will be working with your group to develop a short panel discussion: You will present together at the front of the room, discuss an article your group has read, and answer questions from the audience.
- Your discussion needs to include a shared presentation that summarizes the main points of the article. If a slides presentation is created, each group member must take part.
- Normally, a panel discussion introduces the speakers, but we already know each other. Instead, we’ll go directly into each one of you summarizing your opinion of the article: its arguments, its credibility, its clarity.
- Every member of the group needs to express at least a part of the article’s summary. Every member of the group must, at some point, express his or her evaluation/opinion of the article and/or its subject.
- You will be graded not only on responding to questions, but also according to questions you ask when you are not presenting. If no questions are asked voluntarily, they will be asked involuntarily by the teacher’s direction.
- The panel presentation will have a minimum time limit of 3 minute per participant and a maximum of 4 minutes per participant. (Four people in a group means 12-16 minutes.) This does not include time spent answering questions.
Make sure you meet together at least once to determine how you will go about summarizing and evaluating the article effectively. Consider what essential questions your particular article is seeking to answer. I strongly suggest you schedule a group meeting to read the article together.
If you are teaching or directing this assignment, your responsibility will be to form groups and assign media to each group for consideration, as well as instruct students on the amount of time (usually a few weeks) that their group needs for preparation and create rubrics or specific guidelines for grading and holding individuals and groups accountable for their work.
The following articles have been effective media choices for groups:
- “ISIS and the Lonely Young American” by Rukmini Callimachi
- “Loving Them to Death” by Jon Krakauer
- “The Sumo Matchup Centuries in the Making” by Benjamin Morris
- “The Two Americans” by Sabrina Tavernise
- “Fatal Distraction” by Gene Weingarten
- “Pearls Before Breakfast” by Gene Weingarten
- “The Peekaboo Paradox” by Gene Weingarten