Socratic Questioning – Train your learners to ask better questions

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Good teachers ask good questions, nobody would argue with that. It is also true that successful people haven’t necessarily got superior intelligence to the rest of us, but they simply ask better questions. Even Einstein said “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” and “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”.

So, it follows that one of the most important jobs of a teacher is to help their learners to ask better questions. This can be achieved in many ways. For example, Tom Harbour of Leicester City College shows something new and curious to his A-level students every lesson. It usually is a demonstration of a Physics process that is not intuitive. This could be something like bouncing a tennis ball and a basket ball next to each other and then again with the tennis ball on top of the basket ball. The second time the tennis ball shoots up really high, much higher than the height it was dropped from. At this point the students are encouraged to ask as many questions as possible about the phenomenon they’ve witnessed. These questions can sometimes remain unanswered, because what is most valued is the process of asking good questions.

Socratic Questions

Socrates was one of the most effective teachers who ever lived and he became famous for his unique teaching style that was based on asking questions to his pupils aimed at drawing out the answers from them. If asked a question by his learners, Socrates would likely ask a question back that would make his students think about what they asked and move them closer to the solution. Socrates use a range of questions to achieve the desired outcome and we have stem questions that can help us to adopt a similar teaching approach and get refine at our questioning technique. These are called Socratic Questions and a good article about them is here.

Mind Map of Socratic Questions

I attempted to mind map these stem questions to give a visual aid for teachers who are seeking to improve their questioning techniques, so I hope you will find the mind map below of some use.


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