What are Socratic Seminars and Roundtables

Socratic seminars and roundtables have taken their name from an ancient Greek philosopher who was widely known for his particular method of generating and encouraging thought-provoking discussions with friends and citizens in ancient Athens. Socrates’ approach was based on stimulating engagement in dialogue for a topic or an abstract idea that was then elaborated on and touched upon by participants in his group discussion. Through a series of engaging and thought provoking questions, Socrates aimed to bring to the fore ideas and opinions that were deeply rooted in the minds of his interlocutors while making them question their own beliefs and values.

In this context, the learning objective of this sub-unit is for you to learn about Socratic Seminars and roundtables.

In our contemporary context, when we refer to “Socratic seminars and round tables” we refer to a text-based student-led discussion that takes place in school settings and in which students engage in dialogue with their peers on a selected topic or
idea. This idea is first written down by students in a short text. Then, students prepare questions that will start and keep the conversation rolling.

The aim of Socratic seminars or round tables is to make students aware of civic engagement in civic dialogue and collaboration as well as nurture their critical thinking skills and citizenship behaviours.

Socratic seminars are usually comprised of four fundamental elements, specifically:

  • The text: the topic, idea or subject upon which students will engage in dialogue (e.g. a video, a piece of literature, a science issue, etc.)
  • The Question(s): At the beginning of the seminar, one opening question is set by students to trigger discussion. From this question and the thoughts it will provoke, more questions will be generated.
  • The leader: A person who is in charge of presenting all aspects of the “text” and thus helping students in the further exploration of the topic.
  • Participants: Usually students should be prepared to engage in the discussions by having read the text well and prepared to pose and answer questions during the seminar.