The Socratic Method: Fostering Critical Thinking

By Sandy Chapman

"Do not take what I say as if I were merely playing, for you see the subject of our discussion—and on what subject should even
a man of slight intelligence be more serious?—namely,
what kind of life should one live . . ."
- Socrates

This tip explores how the Socratic Method can be used to promote critical thinking in classroom discussions. It is based on the article, The Socratic Method: What it is and How to Use it in the Classroom, published in the newsletter, Speaking of Teaching, a publication of the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

The article summarizes a talk given by Political Science professor Rob Reich, on May 22, 2003, as part of the center’s Award Winning Teachers on Teaching lecture series. Reich, the recipient of the 2001 Walter J. Gores Award for Teaching Excellence, describes four essential components of the Socratic method and urges his audience to “creatively reclaim [the method] as a relevant framework” to be used in the classroom.

Bust of SocratesWhat is the Socratic Method?

Developed by the Greek philosopher, Socrates, the Socratic Method is a dialogue between teacher and students, instigated by the continual probing questions of the teacher, in a concerted effort to explore the underlying beliefs that shape the students views and opinions. Though often misunderstood, most Western pedagogical tradition, from Plato on, is based on this dialectical method of questioning.

An extreme version of this technique is employed by the infamous professor, Dr. Kingsfield, portrayed by John Houseman in the 1973 movie, “The Paper Chase.” In order to get at the heart of ethical dilemmas and the principles of moral character, Dr. Kingsfield terrorizes and humiliates his law students by painfully grilling them on the details and implications of legal cases.

In his lecture, Reich describes a kinder, gentler Socratic Method, pointing out the following:

Professor Reich also provides ten tips for fostering critical thinking in the classroom. To read the article in full, go to The Socratic Method: What it is and How to Use it in the Classroom.

The Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) (2003), The Socratic Method. Speaking of Teaching newsletter, Fall 2003, Vol. 13, No.1. Retrieved September 5, 2007 from https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching-resources/speaking-teaching-newsletter-archive

Sources

The Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) (2003), The Socratic Method. Speaking of Teaching newsletter, Fall 2003, Vol. 13, No.1. Retrieved September 5, 2007 from https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching-resources/speaking-teaching-newsletter-archive