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Examples for Socratic Questioning

Climate and Solar Radiation

Created by Dorothy Merritts, Franklin & Marshall College (dorothy.merritts@fandm.edu)
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Questions regarding climate are arranged in a suggested sequence in which the teacher can direct a session of Socratic questioning in order to achieve certain learning content goals. Main concept addressed is various controls on the amount of solar radiation received at different parts of Earth's surface.

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Learning Goals

To identify causes of differences in amount of solar radiation received at Earth's poles and equatorial region. To consider the effect of Earth's axial tilt on the amount of solar radiation received at different parts of Earth's surface.

Context for Use

This example is suitable for in-class use during a lecture period. No equipment is required unless the instructor wishes to use supplemental images. In that case, the images can be shown either with an overhead or computer projector.

Teaching Materials

Sample questions for Socratic questioning regarding controls on Earth's climate:

What factors affect the amount of solar radiation received at a given spot on Earth's surface? Why do Earth's polar regions receive less solar energy than the equator? If polar regions receive less solar energy than the equatorial region, why don't the poles get colder with time while the equator gets warmer? How might the tilt of Earth's axis affect the amount of solar radiation received at the poles and, hence, Earth's climate? For example, at present Earth's axis is tilted about 23° from vertical. What if it were tilted much less, perhaps only 10° from vertical?

Teaching Notes and Tips

Tips: As in all Socratic questioning, give students time to reflect before answering questions, and make an effort to call on different students throughout the class period. Let students know at the beginning of class whether or not you will call on students randomly, or ask for hands to be raised, or both.


Many simple details can cause problems when using Socratic questioning. For example, students might feel that they never are given quite enough time to reflect on the answer before called upon. They might not be able to hear some of the other students' answers, especially in a large classroom. They might find it very challenging to take notes during the questioning and response session, and at least will find it more difficult to take notes than during a traditional lecture/chalk class.

The best way to determine what problems are occurring is to give students a questionnaire after each of the first few classes in which the approach is tried. Ask students directly if they think that you are allowing sufficient time for reflection. Ask if they are concerned about hearing other students' responses, and so forth. Add one question that asks students to make note of any problems not referred to in the questionnaire.

Each student should be able to answer any of the questions that was posed during the Socratic questioning session. A good way to assess what the students have learned from a Socratic questioning class is to give a short quiz in which several of the questions from the previous class are listed. This quiz can be given at the beginning of the next class period. If the class is large and grading frequent quizzes is too burdensome, the questions can be designed with multiple-choice answers.

References and Resources