Types of Texts for Socratic Seminar

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.

For starters:

  • 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.




 Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson 

 Short Story

 Raymond's Run by Toni Cade Bambara

 Short Text

 Tao Te Ching chapter 2 

 Children’s book

The Sneetches by Doctor Seuss

 Movie Clip

 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

 Classical Music

 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


 Jérôme Murat’s The Living Statue 


 Center of Gravity: Males & Females

 Primary Resource

 Columbus’s journal

 Political Cartoon

 Join or Die


 The Early Colonies

 TV Show

 Star Trek: Voyager episode 191: Living Witness


 “This sentence is false.” (True or False?)

Image by Deepweb - Pixabay


annotating, close reading, Socratic Seminar, texts

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