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Annotated Example of Socratic Questioning

Climate: Global Warming

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


An annotated example of Socratic questioning by the teacher with sample responses from students is provided in the Teaching Materials below. Topics covered are 20th century global warming, climate change, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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Learning Goals

To assess evidence (average annual temperature data) for 20th century global warming. To compare short-term (140 years) and longer-term (1000 years) global temperature data. To examine evidence for the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. To evaluate the hypothesis that post-Industrial Revolution greenhouse gases are contributing to modern global warming.

Context for Use

This example is suitable for in-class use during a lecture period. It provides an excellent way to get students to think about causes of climate change. Evaluation of the hypothesis that post-Industrial Revolution global warming is caused by accumulating anthropogenic greenhouse gases can lead to an excellent class discussion of the role of scientists in policy issues. 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

This module example contains the following resources:

  1. Sample teacher questions and student answers
  2. Images from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report are contained within the above Word file, but can be extracted to be shown as images during class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is helpful to print a copy (or make available on a server) of the three sets of graphs that will be discussed, so that students can look closely at the data, and so that they can take notes on the figures.

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