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An Example of the Socratic Approach to Teaching

Named for the early Greek philosopher/teacher Socrates, a Socratic approach to teaching is one in which the instructor poses thoughtful questions to help students learn.

Short Example of Socratic Questioning

The following series of questions and hypothetical answers illustrates how a teacher might engage students in Socratic questioning during class. This particular example on plate tectonics, faulting, and earthquakes is designed for an introductory Earth sciences course in which the students have some background to the topic, e.g., through lectures and/or text readings.

Map of San Andreas fault plate boundary. The image to the left illustrates the San Andreas fault and its plate tectonic setting along the coast of western North America. Show it to students, then call on various students to answer the following questions:

Q. What is an essential feature of this fault? Draw upon material from course readings, lectures, or other sources of information.
A. The plates are moving past one another about 5 cm/yr.

Q. How do we know that the relative plate velocity is 5 cm/yr?
A. Scientists can measure the motion with satellites.

Q. Could an earthquake occur along the northernmost San Andreas fault, from San Francisco northward to the fault's termination?
A. Yes.

Q. What is your reasoning for saying an earthquake could occur?
A. A large earthquake occurred in San Francisco in 1906.

Q. What assumption are you making, if you state that earthquakes can occur in the future?
A. If an earthquake already occurred, then it could happen again.

Q. Is that a reasonable assumption, and why or why not?
A. Yes, because if the tectonic plates are moving, then earthquakes must occur to accommodate that motion, so they're not likely to stop now, unless the plates stop moving.