Socratic Seminar

A Socratic Seminar is a discussion protocol we used in our crew to talk about the Bear River Massacre.

Students listened to a 3rd account about the Bear River Massacre. Then all students read two texts, one of them was written by an Army Colonel, the other one by a Shoshone, both telling their side of the story. Students wrote down notes and questions.

Before we started a discussion, we made sure we had good norms for everybody to follow. This is what the students came up with:


Two questions were posted and students were supposed to address those in their discussion:


The Socratic Seminar is not a teacher-led discussion. It is completely facilitated by students, the teacher is just observing.

If you think 3rd and 4th graders are not able to talk about such a heavy topic on their own, following certain norms, you are mistaken. If you would have been there, you would have been very surprised.

Our discussion lasted 30 minutes and almost all of the students shared their thoughts. The engagement was very high, norms were followed, everything said was on topic, and students responded and referred to what others had said before in a kind way using language like “I agree with… because…” or “I respectfully disagree with… because…”. A lot of students also used quotes from the texts as evidence to support their arguments.

Being able to engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly is not just one of the State Standards for Language Arts, it is a very important skill for every day life and the future.

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