Are Nanobacteria Alive: Sample Socratic Questions

By Monica Bruckner, Montana State University, Bozeman (based on MLER website:Nanobes and Nanobacteria).

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Questions regarding the characteristics of life, with emphasis on nanobacteria, are arranged in sequence for Socratic questioning.

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Learning Goals

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. This activity is based on the Nanobes and Nanobacteria website, part of the SERC Microbial Life project. Hence, this module may supply images and background information for instructors and students. Excellent general images and other educational resources are available at numerous web sites, such as Microbial Life - Educational Resources, and add significant impact to this topic during class discussions. Some examples are given below in References and Resources.

Description and Teaching Materials

Sample questions arranged in sequence for Socratic questioning regarding whether nanobacteria exist and are alive are listed below. These questions are based on the Nanobes and Nanobacteria website (part of MLER).

Teaching Notes and Tips

Tips: Prepare students for the Socratic questioning activity by having them read and take notes on credible sources (e.g. peer-reviewed articles, textbooks, and meeting proceedings- such as The National Academy of Sciences ) regarding the characteristics of life and nanobacteria. Students should use notes from these readings to support their ideas during the activity.

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.

To explore questions about the characteristics of life fully, allow at least a full class period of 50 to 90 minutes.


During and after this Socratic questioning activity, students should be able to use appropriate terminology and integrate background readings to:

Student responses should be supported by evidence from credible sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles, textbooks, meeting proceedings, etc.

Another measure of success for this Socratic questioning activity is general student feedback-this may include comments made by students regarding the activity itself, if students continue discussing/debating the topic after or outside of class time, or if students contribute to the discussion with their own thoughtful questions (during the activity itself, subsequent class periods, or outside of class).

References and Resources

Nanobes and Nanobacteria (from the Microbial Life Educational Resources website)

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