I’ve Learned a Thing or Two About Socratic Circles

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Last spring, I agreed to take on the responsibility of teaching Dual Enrollment World history.  Last summer, I prompted my curriculum director, Laura Wood, to expose me to novel approaches to instruction.  She responded…BIG TIME.  The concept she promoted that intrigued me the most, was the Socratic circle.

I’ve proctored 5 SCs (Socratic Circles) this semester.  Each has been markedly better than its predecessor.

In this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned.  I’ll divide my report into logistics (which includes physical and strategic elements to a successful SC), and content (which includes what is discussed and how it should be prompted).


Logistics are darned important.  These tactics have evolved through trial and error:

  • Divide the SC into 2 groups.  The outer circle sits on the outside and silently evaluates the performance of the inner circle.  After the inner circle has concluded their portion, the outer circle offers feedback.  Then, the roles are switched.
  • Push the desks close to form a tight circle.  This will create an intimate setting.  The outer circle can sit on the desks and lord over their subjects.
  • Give each circle about 10 minutes to pontificate.  If the convo is rolling, by all means let it go a little longer.  But make sure to give the other circle a chance to move inward.
  • Make certain each circle has some extroverts.  I’ve read sources that encourage limiting the amount of airtime extroverts can monopolize.  I’m not buying!  The introverts can be coaxed into participating…stepping up their game.  SCs are all about communal understanding.  Challenge ALL your students to create some questions about your topic.  Asking a question is a non-threatening way to get an introvert yakking.
  • Invite visitors!  Please do this!  How about administrators, board members, parents, colleagues?  Outsiders add a lot of energy to the SC.  Your students will put on a show!
  • Create an ENTRANCE TICKET.  Have the students demonstrate they’re prepared for the SC.  It could be highlighting the text with notes in the margins.  It could be answering some open-ended prompts from you.  Or, it could be crafting some questions they’ll ask during the SC.  If students don’t prepare properly, they’re still allowed to participate, but they certainly don’t get full credit.
  • Create an EXIT TICKET.  This is a great assessment tool.  Refer to the image at the beginning of this post.  The “Inner Jims” are enthusiastically dishin’!  The “Outer Jims” are quiet, observing, writing, and evaluating.  Students will turn this in at the end of the SC.  This will help you evaluate who got it!
  • Just remember…when it comes to the teacher’s role in SCs…SILENCE IS GOLDEN!  You’re going to have to learn to ZIP IT!  This is student lead learning…so just be cool!  They listen to you all the time.  Now it’s their turn.  There may be some awkward silences.  You may have to briefly redirect the discussion.  But otherwise, take a Zen-like posture, and allow things to evolve.



Complete the inventory below to create a successful SC:

Step 1:  It’s essential you focus on a compelling topic.  And you must think of this from the student’s perspective.  I think America’s decision to abandon the gold standard in 1933 is fascinating…but will my students?

Step 2: There’re many types of learners.  When you assign the material for SC prep, include diversity!   You can always include text, but add a podcast, or a Ted Talk…or both.

Step 3: Create amazing prompts.  These are what inspires and guides the SC.  My friend and boss Allison Fagan encouraged me to include dilemma type questions.  These questions cause students to ponder while fostering deep curiosity.  I also like to include some application prompts.  In other words…ask the student to apply the topic to their lives.  THAT GETS THEM TALKING!

I read this book on SCs last summer.  It was very helpful to me.



Below, I included my handout for the SC we did last week.  It’s yours to steal, refine or discard and go back to the drawing board.  Finally, have some fun with SCs.  There’s great potential in this activity!

Socratic Inner Circle Evaluation

Name a person who exercised leadership.

Name a specific person who did the above criteria well.

What was the most interesting question to surface?

What was the most interesting idea to surface?

What could this group do to improve its performance?

Socratic Circle Self Evaluation

Did I??? Yes No Comments Score 1-10
Adequately Prepare?
Participate in the Socratic Circle?
Cite the preparation material?
Make real life associations?
Exercise good citizenship?  





Total: 50/_______

I you’d like to learn more about connecting with students, check out my book “You’ve Gotta Connect” 

2 thoughts on “I’ve Learned a Thing or Two About Socratic Circles

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