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Annotated, Detailed Example of Socratic Questioning


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 the hydrologic cycle, stream hydrographs, and land-use change.

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Learning Goals

To identify and define the main components of the hydrosphere and the ways in which they interact with one another. To understand the representation of baseflow and stormflow in a stream hydrograph. To explore how changes in Earth's surface materials affect components of the hydrosphere. To evaluate the effect of land-use change (from human activities) on Earth surface processes.

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 the various components of the hydrologic cycle as not only interconnected, but also as sensitive to human activities in the landscape. If this example were used in class along with the supplemental figures and exercises (e.g., having students sketch a post-urbanization hydrograph over a pre-development hydrograph), it would take a full 50-minute class 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

This module example contains the following resources:

  1. Sample questions and answers

  2. A jpeg image Wheat fields on gentle slopes illustrate agricultural land cover prior to development. of a wheat field that illustrates a pre-development type of land cover.

  3. A jpeg image New suburban housing development illustrates mix of pavement and grass land cover. of a suburban development that illustrates a type of land cover.

  4. A jpeg image Average annual precipitation map for the U. S. of a map of the U. S. that illustrates average annual precipitation.

  5. A jpeg image Average annual potential evapotranspiration map for the U. S. of a map of the U. S. that illustrates average annual evapotranspiration.

  6. A jpeg image of a streamflow hydrograph Streamflow hydrograph comparing pre- and posturbanization trends. that shows both pre- and post- development discharge curves.

Teaching Notes and Tips

If the exercise with pre- and post-development hydrographs is used, it is helpful to print a copy of the pre-development hydrograph to give to students during class. They can use that copy on which to draw the post-development hydrograph.

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