Guiding Socratic Questioning

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

Example of Guiding Students to Better Answers and Greater Understanding during Socratic Questioning

Note: This example differs from one given in the Geoscience Examples: Hydrosphere/Cryosphere module, in that the first student response is incorrect, the student continues to have difficulty answering questions, and the teacher must make more effort to guide the student towards understanding. Only the beginning of the lesson is presented here. A fuller version is given in the Geoscience Examples part of the module for Socratic questioning.

The instructor/teacher is identified as T, and the student as S.

T. Imagine that it has been raining for 2 days in an area on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado, during July. Total rainfall for the event is 2 inches. The nearly level terrain is covered with wheat fields. What happens to the rain?

[Wait at least one minute to give students time to reflect, then call for students to raise their hands if they have an answer. If not, choose and call on someone at random.]

S. It runs off the ground.

T. What are you assuming about the ground if you say that all of a 2-inch rainfall runs off a wheat field?

[No answer from the student. Student looks perplexed. Teacher poses the question in slightly different way.]

T. Are you assuming that the ground is like a sponge that soaks up the water, or a counter top from which water runs off?

S. That the ground is like a counter top.

T. Can you give one or more reasons for why your assumption might be valid?

S. No. Not really. I guess it wouldn't be like a counter top, though.

T. Why not?

S. Well, the counter top is solid and hard, and the ground isn't.

T. I could argue that the ground is solid (it's not liquid or gas, right?), and it is hard, just like the counter top. Something else must be different from a counter top. What else is different? Imagine that you're the farmer digging up the soil after a Fall harvest. What does the ground look like?

S. It's dirt.

T. And how is dirt different than a counter top?

S. It's crumbly, and loose.

T. Can a pile of dirt, which consists of "crumbs" that actually are small pieces of mineral and organic matter, absorb water? And if so, how does it do so?

S. Yes, it could absorb water I think. Water can fill the spaces between the crumbs.

T. So the ground is actually porous and permeable if it consists of loose dirt rather than solid rock. Going back to our original question then, what would happen to the 2 inches of rainfall?

S. It could soak into the ground.

T. And what if it kept raining and raining, for days and days? Would the dirt be able to keep soaking up more and more water?

S. I guess that the holes would fill up with water. [Teacher pauses to wait for more response from the student.] So, I guess that eventually the water would run off, like the counter top.