What Is the Socratic Method? Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Plato's 'Apology': Summary & Concepts

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 A Different Kind of Class
  • 0:55 Socratic Conversations
  • 3:03 Examples of the…
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

This lesson discusses a style of teaching and learning known as the Socratic method. You'll consider what makes this approach effective and why it can sometimes be uncomfortable.

A Different Kind of Class

Have you ever sat through a lecture-style class where you listened to the information provided by a teacher but found yourself struggling to learn it? Perhaps there were just too many facts to absorb or you were simply bored by it and not motivated to learn.

What if instead you were in a class where you knew your teacher might call on you and ask you questions about your understanding of the topic? You would be consulted about your opinion and given a chance to provide input into the discussion - and ask probing questions of the teacher, too. What if you and the teacher had a lengthy conversation about the subject?

Not so boring, but maybe uncomfortable at times, right? In this lesson, we'll look at how this second type of classroom experience relates to the Socratic method, a style of inquiry in philosophy and education.

Socratic Conversations

Lectures have their place in the world of education. We've all been in classes where the teacher did most of the talking. Sometimes this is a helpful way of taking in the information. Even watching video lessons is a little like listening to a lecture. The conversation is a one-way street, where you're listening and learning, and until you take the quiz, you don't necessarily get a chance to chime in with your own thoughts and knowledge.

The Socratic method is a different style of education than a lecture. This approach involves a conversation in which a student is asked to question their assumptions. It is a forum for open-ended inquiry, one in which both student and teacher can use probing questions to develop a deeper understanding of the topic.

Although it's unknown who first used this approach in history, the method is named for Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher who was known for these types of conversations. Think of the Socratic method as mainly back and forth between a teacher, like Socrates, and a student. These types of conversations do not necessarily find all of the answers, but they raise new questions for consideration.

The Socratic method has sometimes been portrayed in movies or by particular teachers as an intimidating experience, where a teacher tries to put down the student's knowledge. However, the modern application of the method is mainly about gaining deeper understanding of a topic and not about condemning a student. The goal is greater knowledge, not just winning an argument or showing yourself to be superior.

If you imagine yourself back in that classroom listening to the lecture, you're focused on taking in what the teacher tells you is the truth. On the other hand, when you engage with a teacher using the Socratic method, you use your critical thinking skills to question their stance and your own stance, to consider many different ways of looking at a topic.

Example of the Socratic Method

For instance, let's say that the topic of conversation is about what it means to love another person. The teacher might ask you how you define love between two people. You might answer something like this: 'Love is a combination of feelings you have and actions you take to demonstrate your appreciation that another person exists.'

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Socratic Dialogue

In this activity, students will attempt to participate in the Socratic method by conducting a dialogue with another person in the method.

Before starting a conversation, each student should decide on a topic of conversation and conduct research to become well informed on that topic. The topics should be somewhat controversial without being aggressively so. Some topic ideas are:

  • Love (as seen in the lesson)
  • Global warming
  • Decreased class size in schools
  • Uniforms for all students, even in public schools

Students should find a person with whom to converse. Students should tell the person that they are studying a method of conversation that focuses on open-ended inquiry and free dialogue between both the presenter and the receiver.

Now, the students should ask an opening question to get a general feel for the receiver's beliefs on the topic. For example,

  • What is love?
  • What do you think about global warming?
  • Do you think schools are too crowded?
  • Should all schools have a uniform policy?

Students should use the Socratic Method described in the lesson to continue the conversation in an open way allowing for the exchange of information and delving deeper with follow-up questions related directly to the responder's comments.

Alternative

If students are working alone, they can write a brief dialogue between two imaginary people in play form. The students should attempt to compose realistic responses so that the Socratic Method of conversation can be seen within the written dialogue.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support