How to Use the Socratic Method in the Classroom

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

Role of the Teacher

During Socratic questioning, the teacher is a model of critical thinking who respects students' viewpoints, probes their understanding, and shows genuine interest in their thinking. The teacher poses questions that are more meaningful than those a novice of a given topic might develop on his or her own. The teacher creates and sustains an intellectually stimulating classroom environment and acknowledges the value of the student in that environment. In an intellectually open, safe, and demanding learning environment, students will be challenged, yet comfortable in answering questions honestly and fully in front of their peers.

Tips for the Teacher

  • Plan significant questions that provide structure and direction to the lesson.
  • Phrase the questions clearly and specifically.
  • Wait Time: Maintain silence and wait at least 5 to 10 seconds for students to respond.
  • Keep the discussion focused.
  • Follow up on students' responses and invite elaboration.
  • Stimulate the discussion with probing questions.
  • Periodically summarize (e.g., on blackboard or overhead projector) what has been discussed.
  • Draw as many students as possible into the discussion.
  • Do not pose yes/no questions, as they do little to promote thinking or encourage discussion.
  • Do not pose questions that are vague, ambiguous, or beyond the level of the students.
Further information on developing and guiding questioning.

Role of the Student

Before an exercise in thoughtful questioning, it is helpful if the teacher tells students that they are expected to do the following:
  • Participate when called upon.
  • Answer questions as carefully and clearly as possible.
  • Address the whole class so that everyone can hear their answers.
  • Be as succinct as possible in the interest of maximizing classroom time and effectiveness.