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Socratic Seminar Workshops

Socratic seminars are authentic teacher-led classroom discussions that promote higher level thinking, more careful reading of texts, and increased classroom and civil discussion skills.  They are appropriate for students at any grade (1-12) and are most effective in literature, social studies, history, and other “humanities” courses.  They have also proven to be a valuable, if perhaps more challenging, teaching approach in math and science classes.  A two-three day workshop provides “basic” seminar training so that participants can return to their own classrooms and begin to conduct seminars.

Socratic seminars are conversations conducted in a circle using a common "text" that might be anything: a short story, a primary source document, an illustration or a poem. The overall goal of a seminar is to learn and practice the skills of making meaning and to do so in a cooperative and civil environment. Unlike more traditional classroom discussions, the teacher doesn't have or seek "right" answers. Instead, students engage with the text and each other, with the help of the teacher, to better understand the issues, ideas and values found in the text.


Socratic seminar training workshops are highly participatory and interactive.  Each day begins with an "adult" seminar in which all participate.  By participating in actual seminars, participants are able to experience what their students might experience and learn the process “by doing.”  The other hallmark of seminar training is the repetition of “micro-seminars.”  These are seminars on smaller texts that are conducted by the participants in small groups. The “hands and minds on” aspect of this is extremely powerful as participants do the actual work of preparing for and leading seminars.


The remaining elements of a seminar training revolve around making participant and leading behaviors explicit, identifying the elements of good seminar texts, working with second language learners, exploring issues related to grading and assessment of seminars, and determining the best ways to implement seminars in the participants’ home setting. On-site coaching and modeling can also be arranged immediately after the training.


Objectives:  Participants will be able to…

  • describe the specific elements of a Socratic seminar and how each contributes to the overall learning goals of seminars;

  • list aspects of effective participation and leadership in Socratic seminars;

  • engage in the process of “Socratic” questioning and compare it with other forms of classroom questioning;

  • discuss issues related to the assessment of Socratic seminars;

  • identify characteristics of high quality texts for use in Socratic seminars;

  • conduct micro-Socratic seminars as a way of learning leading skills;

  • understand that conducting Socratic seminars is a “practice” that takes on-going training, coaching and practice

Seminars are one of the more important pedagogies for the Common Core and helping students learn skills for success in the 21st Century! 

Comments about Socratic Seminars


  • ...It was like opening a whole new world to them (3rd grade teacher)

  • ...they literally cheered when I said we would do a seminar! (5th grade teacher)

  • ...I was amazed at who was empowering for kids who usually don’t speak up (3rd grade teacher)

  • ...the level of conversation was incredible. I gained new insights into the text! (10th grade teacher)

  • ...they can’t wait to do another one! (11th grade teacher)


Comments about John's Socratic Seminar Workshop:


  • This was an amazing class

  • A phenomenal course

  • It should be mandatory for all teachers

  • Excellent materials and professional, dynamic teacher

  • Average course evaluation (1-5 scale) of 4.79


John Zola has been conducting Socratic Seminar workshops for nearly 20 years in schools and school districts across the United States and in a wide range of International School settings. For more information and references, please contact John at:

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