Are Viruses Alive: Sample Socratic Questions

By Monica Bruckner and George Rice, Montana State University, Bozeman. Based on MLER website:Are Viruses Alive? by George Rice ( and

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 viruses, 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 "Looking for Thermal Viruses in Yellowstone National Park" Microbial Observatory, 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 also available at numerous web sites, such as Microbial Life - Educational Resources (MLER), 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 viruses are alive are listed below. These questions are based on the Are Viruses Alive? website (part of MLER) by George Rice.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Tips: Prepare students for discussion by having them read credible documents about viruses and the characteristics of life (e.g. peer-reviewed papers, textbooks, etc.). Have students take notes on their readings so that they can use evidence to support their ideas during the activity. Helpful resources can be found under the References and Resources section of this page.

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

Are Viruses Alive? (part of the Microbial Life Educational Resources project).
This site includes helpful links to related external (non-MLER) sites.

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