Socratic seminars are great learning tools because they allow students to voice their own questions and opinions about the subject being discussed. But with the size of classrooms constantly increasing, they can also be problematic.
It becomes problematic when a few students take over the conversation. Without a teacher regulating the discussion, some students can feel left out and unable to communicate their thoughts. But that defeats the purpose of a Socratic seminar. The benefit of a Socratic seminar is that it is entirely regulated by the students. You get to sit and listen, maybe offering a comment now and then, but otherwise, the time entirely revolves around the students having an open discussion about the subject matter.
Join my email list!
Subscribe to receive updates from The Daring English Teacher.
Thank you for subscribing! You will soon receive updates, freebies, and teaching ideas.
So, how do we solve this? Make the groups smaller, and facilitate multiple Socratic seminars in your classroom at one time. You might miss some student contributions, but the students will gain so much
By letting the dominating students have their own Socratic seminar, you allow them to get more out of the debate. They no longer feel like they are carrying the class, but instead having a good debate about the novel or article being discussed. They will feel like they are getting more out of the process.
As for the students who are usually quieter, they will finally have the chance to voice their opinions. They can get their own thoughts out and see what others think of their views. Often they have very similar thoughts to the dominant students but may never have the courage or the chance to speak up. This smaller setting will give them the confidence to talk more than in other classroom discussions.
On the reverse side, maybe the quieter students really do need a nudge from you to get their thoughts together and vocalized. Through these smaller circles, you can identify quickly which students need your help. It allows you as the teacher to give the focused attention that these students need. It can help these students begin to think about every piece you read more deeply and form their own thoughts for future readings.
At the end of the class period, have them all come back together with notes on what was said in each individual Socratic seminar. You will end up with a lot of similar thoughts, but there will be some unique ideas also. This is why Socratics are great by themselves, but allowing everyone to participate in smaller seminars creates an environment where everyone feels their opinion is valid. With more thoughts suddenly flowing from all corners of the classroom, everyone will learn more, even the students with the loudest thoughts.