What is the Socratic Method?

The term "Socratic Method" can be intimidating to new teachers. After all, the philosopher who gave his name to this technique is supposed to have been one of the smartest men who ever lived. Does that mean that teachers who use his method have to be just as smart?

Thankfully, no! At Center For Lit, we use the term "Socratic Method" in a broad, non-technical sense to refer to the art of teaching by asking questions. It simply means that the teacher doesn't stand up in front of the class and lecture while students take notes; instead, he or she sits beside them and asks questions of the material right along with them.

This approach has a couple of powerful benefits. First of all, it relieves teachers of the need to be experts in every subject they encounter. Socratic teachers profess ignorance, rather than expertise, as their starting point. We find that this is a much more convenient place to begin, if we're telling the truth. Socratic teaching can take tremendous pressure off the shoulders of parents who are often pulled in many directions by the demands of a busy life.

Secondly, the Socratic method allows teachers to multiply their efforts because it teaches students how to learn, rather than simply what to think. By asking the right questions of a work of literature, Socratic teachers model this style of inquiry, teaching their students to do the same on their own. Where a lecture can transfer information from one brain to another, Socratic teaching can pass on a method of learning, allowing students to teach themselves even after the class is over.