The text for a Socratic Seminar can be any artifact, written or otherwise, that will anchor the conversation. Whatever is selected as the focus for conversation must be able to promote conversation, critical and creative thinking, and collaboration. A text is often a poem, a short piece of fiction, an excerpt from a novel, a work of art, a question or quotation, a geometric proof, a movie clip, a song, etc. Advanced groups can also work with text sets with several artifacts at once.
Using a text allows the students to justify their answers with specificity, rather than simply sharing opinions. With written texts, this is easily done through using line numbers and page numbers, or having students number paragraphs during the pre-seminar. With visual texts, create a grid, much like a coordinate system for a map: A3, B5, D9, etc. For recordings and music, make sure the students can cite the time stamp.
Text selection can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of planning a Socratic Seminar, but there are helpful resources from three companies that specifically make seminar materials: The Great Books Foundation, The National Paideia Center, and Touchstones Discussion Project.
- The text should be relatively short—typically only a few paragraphs at first so that the conversation can stay focused.
- It should be difficult for individual participants to comprehend but manageable by the group.
- The text should have widespread “big idea” appeal.
- It should contain complex ideas, issues, and/or values.
- A text always works in conjunction with the other components, especially The Opening Question.
Raymond's Run by Toni Cade Bambara
The Sneetches by Doctor Seuss
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Persistence of Memory by Dali
Excerpt from novel
Opening paragraph to A Tale of Two Cities
“What is boredom?”
“First they came...” by Martin Niemöller (Here's a collection of great thinking quotations).
Song + Lyrics
Lateralus by Tool
Song + Lyrics + Visual
Naive Melody by Talking Heads and art from the book What the Songs Look Like
The Planets by Gustav Holst
Euclid’s Book of the Elements (Here are some other text suggestions).
Chart or Graph
Immigration in the 19th Century
Center of Gravity: Males & Females
Join or Die
The Early Colonies
Star Trek: Voyager episode 191: Living Witness
“This sentence is false.” (True or False?)
Image by Deepweb - Pixabay