Friday, January 20, 2017

How to Liven Up Your Socratic Seminar

One of my favorite things about being an English teacher is hearing my students have deep discussions about literature. I mean half of the people I know go to book clubs for fun, so how awesome is it that I get paid to do this!? ...sans wine, ;)

 The value of Socratic seminars is tremendous, but just like with anything, hosting them the same way every time becomes mundane for you and your students. That said, here are some ways to spice up your next seminar. 

1. Flipgrid- My teacher neighbor and friend told me about Flipgrid, and it's AWESOME. You post a question/video at the top of the grid (that's me up there) and students add their own video response under it (no login required! whoop, whoop!). My friend Jenna at DocCop Teaching helped me with an Instagram PD event (search #IGforPDTech), so you can how she simply clicked on the plus sign then added her response. Supposedly, if you are a Microsoft certified teacher, you can get the classroom version for free (which will allow additional responses under each response), but if you are like me and can only use the free version, there are still so many things you can do with it! For example, when you assign articles or chapter reading for homework, you can have students post a discussion question on the grid. To make it more challenging and interesting, tell students that they can't repeat anyone else's question. If they are late to posting, they must listen to the questions then post an original one. The next day in class, you can put students into smaller groups and play a few of the best questions to guide their discussions. Students will need to download the app if they are using a smartphone, but no extra steps are needed with the desktop version.

Students in action. Go follow my friend Jamie if you love finding new tech tools because she is my go-to for everything new!

2. Socratic Soccer Ball- This one of mine has been a huge hit on Pinterest (and rightly so!). This is fun, quick, and gets students up out of their seats!  #goals

If you want further directions and a set of questions for your soccer ball, be sure sign up for my newsletter here:

If you happen to be looking to tweak this question ball for younger readers, you should check out this blog post that featured my idea in their roundup: Reading comprehension games that students will want to play over and over! 

3. Emoji Stems- Another fun way to get students talking is to make accountable talking a little more fun by adding in emojis. I created these emoji posters, task cards, and Socratic seminar props/prompts to take a little of the formality out of circle time. When students feel comfortable, they are more willing to open up and let their ideas flow. To use the props/prompts, have students pick an emoji (the associated talking points are on the back) and hold it up (either in front of their face or at their chest). Once they work their point in, they put it down. This makes it easy to keep track of who as added to the conversation.
What students see on the back of their emoji 

Task cards that can also be printed as full-size posters! 

4. Google Docs or OneNote Collaboration- All of the options above require voice-to-voice discussions, but I also like to add in silent discussion opportunities for my shy geniuses. To do this, I create a 4x # of students table in the OneNote collaboration section (this can also be done in a shared Google document). Then, I add in student names (they will type over top of each other if you let them add their own name unless you have numbered desks). Next, I have students come up with a color combination for their name. For example, one might choose red letters with yellow highlights. The only rule is that no two students can have the same color names. After that, I have students type in discussion questions or insight using their color combination. Lastly, I have students reply to at least 3 other people while keeping their same color combination. By doing this, students can visualize who has replied to whom, and I can easily glance to see which students did all 6 tasks.

5. The 3, 2, 1 Strategy- This is a perfect strategy to use when you assign reading for homework. Instead of giving students worksheets or guiding questions, have them fill out a 3-2-1 Socratic seminar preparedness guide. For instance, have them find 3 questions that will generate discussion, 2 insights about..., (setting, characters, etc) and 1 important line from the chapter. To cut down on cheating and Sparknote use, be sure to tell students that none of their questions or answers can be repeated during the Socratic seminar, so it would be to their best interest to save their work for their own use.

A great way of keeping up with this type of discussion is to draw a conversation mapping chart on the board and fill it in in real time to follow the conversation. I got this idea at an Edcamp my school hosted. The teacher charted hers on paper, but I thought it would be even better to make the chart visible to students in order for them to self-regulate conversation domination or lack thereof.  I made this chart by drawing a huge circle on my board then filling in the four points: myself at the top and three of my strong point-makers on the other three sides (Gage, Holdan, and Jamison). Then, I let the other students circle up and write their name on the board. This took all of two minutes to do and was a lot easier than me having to fill in each name.
Charting class discussions in real time

Bonus Ideas: 
I asked for Socratic Seminar inspiration Instagram, and it got a ton of brilliant replies. If you are looking for more ideas, be sure to read through the comments!

There are too many great ones to add, but here are a few that I really loved:

@MudInkandTeaching uses transitions words to help propel the conversation (I love this because it helps students learn new transitions and how to use them which is always a state-tested skill)

@Sammy_Sam22 uses dice to roll in the center in which the numbers correspond to a prompt on the board.

@DavidRickert7 reminded me of a recent blog post of his about even more ways to have a successful Socratic Seminar. I tried his "dump the fishbowl" strategy and can verify that this works better for my students as well.

@Laurenblou uses bingo cards. I couldn't find these online, but I whipped one up and made it editable in PowerPoint so that you can change the tasks to fit the needs of your students.
Free download here: Editable Socratic Seminar Bingo Card 
 If you like it, feedback is greatly appreciated! :) 

Soccer Ball Socratic Seminar and other great seminar ideas!
Be sure to follow my Instagram account to join in on some fun and nerdy conversations like this one! Ha! @BsBookLove


  1. I just linked to your post in my blog post about the same thing.

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  4. I just purchased the emoji prompts - so fun! - but I'm not sure how you actually implement them. Do students have a copy of each prompt or do they randomly select one and have to participate based on that prompt? Thanks,

    1. Hello!
      I always do randomly selected! There a a few ways to do it though! Some teachers use them as posters so students pick from the wall. I prefer the little hand card to where I can pass a stack out within groups and let them use them in a group conversation. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Can you explain more about charting student conversation in real time? Students write their names on the board around the circle...and then you are listening to the Socratic Circle and draw a line to whomever is speaking? Is that correct? I teach an online class, and I'd really like to use this idea to increase engagement!

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