Socratic Questioning and Driving Discussion

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Questioning.

What is it and how does it work?

Socratic Questioning is all about probing for more depth and understanding in student responses. It challenges student accuracy and the completeness of their thoughts. There are six types or levels of Socratic Questioning that are considered important, these are outlined below along with example question stems that could be used in your delivery. These can and should also be combined with other questioning techniques such as Cold Calling to probe for depth:

  1. Get students to clarify their thinking
    • Why do you say that?
    • What do you already know about that?
    • That is interesting – can you explain it further?
    • Are you saying therefore that…?
  2. Challenging assumptions
    • Is this always the case?
    • Do you agree or disagree with this?
    • How could you prove or disprove that?
    • What would happen if…?
  3. Examining and demanding evidence
    • Why do you say that?
    • Can you give an example?
    • How do you know this to be true?
    • Can you support that with evidence?
  4. Consider alternative viewpoints
    • What is the counterargument for/to…?
    • Can/Did anyone see this another way?
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?
    • An alternative view might be…so what do you think about that?
  5. Exploring consequences
    • How does…affect…?
    • What are the implications/consequences of your answer?
    • What does our experience so far suggest will happen?
    • But, if…happened, what else could be the result?
  6. Questioning the question (aka. Meta-questions)
    • Why do you think I asked that question?
    • Why was that question important?
    • Have you got any questions about my question?
    • What else could I ask about this?
The myriad of benefits to introducing Socratic questioning in lessons

Socratic questions provide a fantastic and extensive menu from which to extend thinking and question for depth of response. Utilised and done well, they can elicit positive outcomes. If you are new to the technique however, you would be forgiven for wondering how to remember them if they are not yet habitual. One potential solution is that they could make a great (and practical) wall display for classrooms, just make them large enough that you can see them from where you may be stood! Also at this link is an info-graphic which has a sample of questions and could be used as a bookmark in a teacher planner.

Bookmark style info-graphic – can be downloaded from the link, above.

Conducting rich discussions using questioning

When effective, teacher questioning maintains a sense of ‘flow’ within classroom discussion. A bank of stock phrases can be used by a teacher to keep this momentum going, to avoid unconnected contributions or isolated and random responses. A example of such phrases are below and it is generally about linking one student’s response to inviting a further contribution from another (letters obviously represent particular students):

  • That links closely to what ‘X’ just said – ‘X’ can you repeat your last comment again?
  • ‘Y’ I really like how you gave a reason to back up your point. Does anyone else have another reason they could add to support this argument even further?
  • So ‘A’ agrees with the protesters we have just read about. ‘B’, I know from the discussion you were having with ‘C’ about this earlier that you have a different view. Can you share your reasons with us, thanks?
  • ‘Z’, thanks for reading your response to that question, ‘P’ what impressed you in particular about ‘Z’s answer?
  • So it is clear that ‘X’ thinks this idea is wrong, but ‘Y’ thinks it is definitely right. ‘A’, could there be a third option?

ABC feedback’ and scaffolding discussion

When students get really good at discussion based question and answer sessions, usually through practising with the teacher creating the linked questions for a while to begin with, they sometimes start to respond to each other without teacher interruption. This can be facilitated and achieved quicker with some structured guidance.

  • ABC Feedback: This stands for Agree, Build on, Challenge. Instead of providing a detailed linking question, you simply ask the next student whether they would like to ABC? They then have to comment on the previous student’s answer and introduce the response fully, for example “I would like to BUILD ON Alex’s comment…”. Again, with any technique being introduced to a class this would need to be modelled and rehearsed before it embeds itself.
  • Scaffolding discussion with discussion stems: Another useful wall display, you could encourage students (when engaged in class, group or paired discussion) to use suggested stems. The advice would be to only display 5 or perhaps 6 that are really useful for your subject. Avoid too many/a large list as they will get ‘lost’ on the wall and the flow will dissipate as students spend most time looking through the list at what to use! As students get used to them they will start improvising their own.
    • I agree with ______ because ______
    • After listening to what ____ said, I think ____
    • I see it differently to ____ because____
    • I’d like to ask a question: ____?
    • I think we should also consider _____. What do you think?

Associated further reading and references:

  • ‘Chapter 6: Questioning’, in Allison, S. and Tharby, A., 2017. Making Every Lesson Count. Carmarthen: Crown House.

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