A Socratic Circle (also known as a Socratic Seminar) is an approach to understand and examine a text through questions and answers founded on the belief that all thinking comes from asking questions, and that asking one question should lead to asking further questions. The Socratic method of teaching is based on Socrates’ theory that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves than to merely fill their heads with “right” answers.
A Socratic Circle is not a debate. The goal is to have participants work together to construct meaning and arrive at an answer, not for one student or one group to “win the argument”.
This approach is based on the belief that students gain a deeper understanding of concepts through thoughtful dialogue rather than memorizing information.
Socratic Circles involve the following process:
- A passage of text that students must read beforehand and two concentric circles of students: an outer circle and an inner circle.
- The inner circle focuses on exploring and analysing the text through the act of questioning and answering.
- During this phase, the outer circle remains silent. Students in the outer circle are much like scientific observers watching and listening to the conversation of the inner circle.
- When the text has been fully discussed and the inner circle is finished talking, the outer circle provides feedback on the dialogue that took place.
- This process alternates with the inner circle students going to the outer circle for the next meeting and vice versa. The length of this process varies depending on the text used for the discussion.
The most significant difference between this activity and most typical classroom activities involves the role of the teacher. In Socratic Circles the students lead the discussion and questioning. The teacher’s role is to ensure the discussion advances regardless of the particular direction the discussion takes.
Teachers use Socratic Circles in different ways. The structure it takes may look different in each classroom.