What is the Socratic method?

The Socratic method is loosely based on the pedagogical approach used by Socrates. This method uses questioning, rather than direct didactic instruction, to foster critical thinking skills in students and to get them to think deeply about important concepts.

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The Socratic method is a pedagogical approach based on the teaching style of Socrates as described in works of Greek philosophy, particularly those of Plato.

In short, the Socratic method consists of an instructor, facilitator, or seminar leader using probing questions. Essentially, the instructor poses questions related to a certain concept or idea that they want students to engage with. Questions are sufficiently open-ended so that they cannot be addressed by simple "yes" or "no" answers, but they are often deliberately crafted to "scaffold" the conversation by eliciting answers that can lead to further questions.

In a classic Socratic exercise, the facilitator will take an apparently simple concept that actually has multiple meanings. This may be something like "love," or "justice." The facilitator solicits student definitions of this concept, and then asks searching questions that do not necessarily refute, but certainly complicate, the student responses. Usually these questions force students to rethink or to refine their responses. In the published dialogues of Socrates, the philosopher was attempting to get his listeners to understand a point that he seems to have already settled in his own mind, like the true nature of "virtue." Socratic exercises are typically used in modern classrooms to hone students' critical thinking skills by teaching students to question their assumptions. The Socratic method also remains influential in argumentation strategies in law schools as well as in counseling.

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