At Saint Leo University, many of the instructors employ the Socratic method of teaching in their classrooms. And they find it very effective in helping their students learn.

If you’re not familiar with this method, we explain what it is while sharing a few Socratic method of teaching examples. We also talk about the benefits that this approach provides, along with tips for how to make the most of it as a Saint Leo student.

What is the Socratic Method of Teaching?

In its simplest form, the Socratic method of teaching is a thought-provoking dialogue between an instructor and their students. It is based on the approach used by the philosopher Socrates, who was known to engage young minds in conversations designed to help define broad ideas, also exposing the complexities and ambiguities behind them.

Instead of giving information and facts, an instructor using the Socratic method of teaching asks students a series of open-ended questions (questions with more than a yes or no answer) about a specific topic or issue. In turn, the students can also pose questions of their own.

Instructors implementing a Socratic method of Teaching act more as facilitators or guides for classroom conversations rather than being providers of information. They compel students to consider why things are a certain way, also considering arguments for and against different viewpoints on a topic.

Socratic Method of Teaching Examples

To better understand what this method might look like within a college-level classroom setting, it can help to see it in action. Here are a few Socratic method of teaching examples:

  • An instructor of a law class asks a student to summarize the facts of a specific court case. The student is then asked if they agree or disagree with the court’s findings and why. The instructor may then change some of the facts of the case, asking the student to explain whether they still hold the same position. Different sides of the case are explored, as well as the potential reasonings behind them.
  • An instructor of a social work class has the students read an article about substance abuse in certain populations. A student is asked to provide a summary of the article. The instructor then asks about the importance of this topic. This leads to questions about whether the article changed the student’s views or their opinion on the subject.

When employing the Socratic method of teaching, the instructor may go through similar question sequences with multiple students, providing a wider range of explanations and potential points of view.

Socratic Method Benefits

The Socratic method of teaching encourages students to explore their thoughts and beliefs, also considering how these thoughts and beliefs may contribute to their assumptions about the topic at hand. This method also helps foster critical thinking, enabling students to reach their own conclusions based on self-analysis of the information versus just accepting what they are told.

One study involving undergraduate business students confirms that the Socratic method of teaching helps improve a student's critical thinking skills. Another study also found positive findings, this time suggesting that this method can be beneficial for improving reading comprehension by placing more attention on critical thinking and the ability to see the world from a different point of view.

An additional benefit of the Socratic method is that it keeps students engaged. If you’ve ever been in a classroom with a teacher who does nothing more than spew facts for you to write down, you know how unappealing this can be. Being in a classroom where the Socratic Method of teaching is employed provides a whole different feel. You are actively engaged in the conversation, contributing to the topic based on your experiences and opinions while also learning from other students.

How to Get the Most from a Socratic Method of Teaching

If you are in a classroom in which the instructor uses a Socratic method of teaching, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of this experience. This includes:

  • Coming to class prepared so you can participate intelligently in the discussion.
  • Thinking about the topic in advance, considering your opinions or the factors you feel might be at play.
  • Being willing to speak up and share your thoughts so others can learn from your interpretations, which may involve working to overcome your fear of public speaking.
  • Becoming a good listener when the instructor is engaging with other students, seeking to learn from their interactions.

In the end, the Socratic method of teaching is designed to help students gain a better understanding of a topic, including the complexities behind it. It also aims to get students more involved in the learning process, challenging long-held assumptions in favor of thinking on their own.