# How to Use the Socratic Method in Your Lessons

In a world that drives standardized tests and strict curricula, the Socratic method stands out as a thoughtful, critical engagement.

This method is an ancient approach that was named after the Greek philosopher Socrates. And remains one of the most effective and profound methods in education today.

Before we dive deep into the Socratic method and how you can apply it in your classes, let me tell you what is this method and how it originated in the form of a story.

## The Socratic method: a story

In the noisy streets of ancient Athens, around 470 BCE, there was born a curious child named Socrates. As he grew, he developed an incredible appetite for knowledge and understanding.

Unlike many of his peers who claimed to be wise, Socrates believed that true wisdom begins when you acknowledge your own ignorance.

Since youth, Socrates often had conversations with anyone willing to talk, - from politicians to craftsmen and slaves. But he had a unique way of approaching his discussions.

Instead of lecturing or claiming superior knowledge, he was asking questions. He always started with simpler questions, and as the conversation went on, he would ask deeper and more investigative ones.

One day, Socrates was talking with a very respected general about courage. So, as always he began with a very straightforward question: “What is courage?”

The general, confident in his expertise, responded quickly. But the answer didn’t satisfy Socrates. So he continued asking more questions. Each question detecting more inconsistencies or gaps in the general’s definition.

After this, the word of Socrates’ method spread around. Young Athenians began to seek him out. His ability to reveal imperfections in traditional wisdom and to guide them toward deeper understanding attracted them a lot.

In turn, Socrates never claimed to teach anything directly. Instead, he compared himself to a midwife. He was helping to birth ideas that were already with them.

However, more and more powerful figures did not receive this approach well. They felt even threatened by Socrates’ questioning of existing beliefs.

His method often left people confused or feeling foolish, as he challenged their deep assumptions.

Therefore, they put him on trial for “corrupting the youth”. But, even this did not stop him. He believed, that by questioning and examining our beliefs, we could come closer to the truth.

Though, Socrates never wrote this method. His student Plato later documented and developed it in his famous dialogues. These writings saved Socrates’ approach. And continue to influence thinkers and educators for many centuries.

That is how from the streets of ancient Athens, this powerful teaching method was born.

## What is the Socratic Method

I hope you liked the story. And now that we grasped the main idea of the Socratic method, let’s make it more clear.

The Socratic method is a form of mutual dialog that involves questioning and discussion. It helps individuals arrive at a deeper understanding of concepts and truths.

You can already see how this method differs from the traditional methods of teaching that often focus on delivering information directly from teacher or tutor to student.

#### Socrates’ method involves four key elements:

• The first one is, questioning instead of providing answers. You, the tutor, ask a question. But not a simple question that requires a yes or no answer.

The question should be thought-provoking, one that challenges students to think and explore.

Let me give you an example. Instead of asking: “Do marketing and packaging influence our impression of the healthiness of ice cream?” ask: “How do marketing and packaging influence our perception of the healthiness of ice cream?”

There is a little change in this question but it requires a different way of thinking and answer.

• The second one is dialogue. People learn through dialogue, not through monologue. As a tutor, your role is to engage in back-and-forth conversations with your student.

The dialog, in this case, means you build each of the following questions based on the previous answer.

• The third key element is critical thinking. Through this method, you as a tutor can encourage students to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information.

This will lead to a deeper understanding rather than superficial knowledge.

• And the last key element is self-discovery. As I already mentioned, you as a tutor do not need to provide the answer to the problem.

Rather through engaging questioning, you can bring your students to their conclusions and insights. Once your students go through the process they will have a more personal and meaningful understanding of the topic.

## How to implement the Socratic method in a class

So, now that we know what is this method, the time comes to understand how to use it effectively.

The process of implementation is very simple. We are going to explore it together with a real-case scenario. Let’s go through each step.

Imagine you are starting a new topic. You begin asking a thought-provoking question or present a scenario. This initial question or scenario should be open-ended and complex enough to generate discussion.

It should also challenge assumptions about the topic or address a basic concept in the subject.

*Let’s take the concept of even and odd numbers in mathematics. You start with a question: “What makes a number even or odd?”*

The next step is to wait for students’ responses or ideas. Here you want to encourage your students to speak their thoughts out loud, even if they cannot fully formulate them yet.

This stage promotes active participation and helps your students articulate their already existing knowledge and beliefs.

Therefore, it requires you to create and maintain a safe environment to share ideas without fear of ridicule. And this is a constant work to do on your side.

*Back to our numbers. Your students respond. Student A: “Even numbers are divisible by 2”. Student B: “Odd numbers have a remainder when divided by 2”. Student C: “Even numbers end in 0, 2, 4”.*

The next step is yours. You ask follow-up questions to challenge or deepen student thinking.

These questions often have the following types:

**-** **Clarification:** “What do you mean by…?”

**- Testing assumptions:** “Is that always the case?”

**- Exploration of reasons and evidence:** “What makes you think that?”

**- Questioning viewpoints and perspectives:** “What would someone who disagrees say?”

**- Study of possible consequences:** “What effect would that have?”

The goal is to identify gaps in reasoning, identify contradictions, or encourage students to improve their ideas.

*Coming back to our even numbers. As you receive several students’ responses, you start asking questions.*

**You: **“That is interesting, Can you give me an example of an even number and show how it’s divisible by 2?”

**Student A:** “Sure, 8 is even because 8 / 2 = 4 with no remainder”.

**You:** “Good. Now, can anyone think of a number divisible by 2 but is not considered even?”.

**Student D: **“What about 6.4? It’s divisible by 2, but it’s not a whole number.”

**You: **“Excellent observation. So, do we need to add anything to our definition of even numbers?”

**Students discuss and agree: **“Even numbers are whole numbers divisible by 2.”

**You to Student B: **“You mentioned odd numbers have a remainder when divided by 2, right? What remainder do they have?”

**Student B: **“They always have a remainder of 1.”

**You: **“Can you think of a way to express odd numbers mathematically using this idea?”

**After some thought, Student B suggests: **“Maybe… odd numbers are like 2n + 1, where n is a whole number?”

**You: **“That’s great insight! Can anyone explain why this works?”…

Here we come to the step number four. Where the cycle continues gradually, identifying complexities and details of the topic.

As the discussion continues, new ideas will emerge and initial knowledge and concepts will improve.

Students will begin to see connections between different ideas and develop a more detailed understanding. As you continue to guide the discussion without providing answers.

As you see, throughout this process, you did not directly teach the concept but rather guided students to formulate their own understanding through questions and discussion.

## Benefits of the Socratic Method

The Socratic method offers many benefits that go beyond traditional learning.

It develops critical thinking in students. As they learn to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and consider different perspectives.

It also increases engagement. The interactive nature of this method, through active discussion, allows students to invest more in their learning process.

Besides, it develops a deeper understanding of concepts, as students explore the basic principles of a topic.

And last, it stimulates students to think about their own beliefs and assumptions, which can lead to growth and greater self-awareness.

## Challenges and Considerations

Together with many benefits, the method also comes with challenges.

First of all, Socratic questioning can be very time-consuming. However, in a tutoring setting where rigid schedules and curricula don’t pressure us, we are more free to enjoy it.

Another challenge is student resistance. Some of your students may be uncomfortable with the open-ended nature of this method. They may prefer more structured and direct instruction.

I usually try this method with each student and see how well it works. Or use it with resistant students on specific occasions, like when asking for feedback.

In addition to the above, learning in a Socratic environment poses challenges for traditional assessment methods. The reason is that they may not fully capture the depth of understanding that we achieved through dialogue.

Finally, tutors themselves need to develop their questioning and facilitation skills to effectively use the Socratic method. You will need to go through training and continuously practice, to use it effectively.

To conclude, the Socratic teaching method is a powerful alternative to traditional educational approaches. It focuses on dialogue, critical thinking, and self-discovery. In my classes I can see how using this method helps my students not only master materials effectively, but also develop essential skills for learning in general and personal growth.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the Socratic method and I believe it will help you and your students in your learning journey.

### Written by Liudmyla M.

Experienced Tutor with over 12 years of teaching both online and offline. Passionate about helping students achieve their goals through personalized and practical methods.