Backchanneling and Socratic Seminars for Student Voice


Session Description

Learn how to run a Socratic seminar or backchannel to include all voices in the classroom discussion. This session will help you techify a sound instructional practice using tools like Today's Meet.

Learner Outcomes

Participants will be able to:
  1. Understand how to give their students a voice in class through the use of Socratic Seminars and Back channeling Tools
  2. Participate in a Socratic Seminar using the "inner and outer" circle technique with a digital twist
  3. Begin to develop a lesson using the Socratic Seminar instructional strategy and a bachkchanneling tools


(10 minutes )

Activity 1: Warm Up

(5 Minutes )

Activity 2:

(10 minutes )

As we review this video clip on Using Socratic Seminars, consider these 3 questions and be prepared to discuss. 

  1. What strategies encourage higher student engagement and individual participation?
  2. In what ways do sentence stems help students learn to respectfully express ideas?
  3. How might you use Socratic Seminars with the content you are currently teaching?

So, how do you begin to design a Socratic Seminar for your class?

(10 minutes )

Step 1:  Choose a Text 
  •     The purpose of a Socratic Seminar is to train students to use evidence from a piece of text to support their interpretations or understandings of the text. You may decide to use a chunk of text from a novel or the entire novel, a short story, a poem,  or an article as the discussion piece or launching off text. 
Step 2:  Let Students Prepare 
  • Socratic Seminars are based on critical thinking and for most students they will not be able to do this effectively is put on the spot. Therefore, you way want to consider giving your students the discussion topics ahead of time--not necessarily the questions themselves, but the topics of discussion and about 24 hours to prepare. Trust us, your discussions will be much richer this way. 
Step 3:  Set up Inner and Outer Circles and establish the Rules and Guidelines for the session
  • The basic format to a Socratic Seminar is having students divided into two groups and sitting in two circles – an inner circle and outer circle. The inner circle represents the speakers. These are the students who discuss the questions. The outer circle students are the recorders. These people silently record notes on the inner circle speakers. After a certain amount of time, both circles switch so that all students have had a chance being in each circle.
  • Rules and Guidelines 
    • Check out these suggestions for Guidelines during the seminar. 
Step 4:  Have students reflect after the seminar
  • It's very important to have your student reflect on the seminar after it has taken palce. You coudl have them write a blog post outlining 2 or 3 things they learned in today's seminiar, a journal reflecting about them as a participant during that day's seminar, they could evaluate their performance using a rubric and then develop 2 or 3 goals to improve upon in the next Socratic seminar. No matter how you have your students reflect, it's imperative they reflect to continue thinking about the discussion. 
Step 5: Don't Jump In
  • It's going to be really difficult not to jump in. We as teachers are not always comfortable giving up the lead, however, you are simply the facilitator of the discussion.  You will post the question to the group and let the students take over. Also, encourage your students to propose their questions during the discussion. This will add an additional layer and depth to the conversation. 

Activity 3: Taking the Socratic Seminar and Adding a Digital Twist
(20 minutes )

Even though Socratic Seminars are great for engaging students to speak in class, sometimes your most quiet student will still be reluctant to speak even in small groups. Therefore, learning to incorporate the use of bachkchanneling tools like Today's Meet , GoSoapbox, Socrative and the discussion board feature in Blackboard Learn can help to give a voice to the student who would otherwise never speak. 

Check out this article on The Backchannel and Giving Every Student a Voice in a Blended Mobile Classroom

Activity 4: Let's Put it All Together

(20 minutes )

Directions:  Today we will be conducting a brief Socratic Seminar on the final scene from Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Our class will be divided into two circles. The inner circle will serve as my speakers for today's seminar. Participants in the outer circle will serve as my note-takers for our seminar. The outer circle will participate using the backchannel Today's Meet. I will display the Today's Meet conversation on the projector throughout the seminar. 

Upon conclusion of the seminar, all students will complete a reflection of what they have learned and post to the Padlet below. 

Text: Excerpt from Kate Chopin's The Awakening  

Additional Resources

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