The great thinkers of the world have used the Socratic method for centuries as a way to think about great things, but can that kind of reasoning also be as “elementary” as Sherlock Holmes said?
Yes, it’s very possible, and in fact, elementary-aged students need to learn to think Socratically now more than ever. Over 95% of the study questions kids have in school require them to think with recall skills, the lowest possible thinking level. Socratic dialogue and it’s high thinking structure will equip kids with the thinking skills they need to excel in life.
How to Use the Socratic Method with Elementary Students
Q: If Socratic Dialogue is so complex that the great universities of the world use it in their courses, how do we adapt it to work with elementary-aged kids?
A: By honing it down to its simplest parts:
1. Identifying the two main types of Socratic thinking
2. Understanding its characteristics
3. Using concrete subjects for dialogue
4. Using the kids’ own reading books for conversation topics
5. Asking questions that require thoughtful answers, not the kinds that
get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers
1. Know the two main types of Socratic thinking: deductive and inductive.
It’s not so important that kids know these terms, but it’s helpful if we do:
Deductive reasoning: Deductive thinking deals with facts. It is whole-to-part.
· Example: you deduct the costs for exact balances.
· Example: in concrete terms, you could say that deductive reasoning starts at a lake of
ideas and follows its streams to little pools of ramifications.
Inductive reasoning: Inductive thinking deals with assumptions and premises. It is part-to-whole.
· Example: you add up costs for estimates.
· Example: In concrete terms, you could say that inductive reasoning starts at a little pool of
ramifications and follows its streams back to the lake of ideas.
2. Know the characteristics:
It is conversational. It uses dialogue as a way to help a student discover new ideas and
opinions, seeking to unfold truths by discussion and thoughtful questions and answers;
quickly-formed conclusions and typical answers are reexamined.
· It begins with a certain point in mind. The teacher wants to ask questions that drive the
student to discover something in particular on his own.
· It is informal.
· It is not a way to test students.
· It begins neutrally. The teacher assumes to know nothing about the topic, which can seem
insincere, but it really brings the child to “square one,” the most elemental point in a
3. Keep the main subjects of the conversations concrete
Keep the main subjects of the conversations concrete, that is, about people, places, events, and things. Kids think concretely until they reach 10-12 years old. After that, when they are able to do abstract thinking, they’ll be able to cover topics such as freedom and justice. (More on this in the next post.)
4. Using their own reading books for conversation topics
The difference between Socratic conversations with A 10-year-old and conversations with a 22-year-old will be in the literature used for the conversations, the level of language used in the book and by the student, and how abstract the conversation concepts are.
5. Ask questions that require thoughtful answers
Here is a list of phrases you might use for a Socratic dialogue with your student:
Did you see how…?
Why did that person…?
If he thought that, then…?
Why would she…?
What do you think?
What caused that?
Do you feel that…?
If that’s the case here, then shouldn’t it be here?
Could something else be going on here, something we don’t see?
If it is, that gives us a clue about…
If it isn’t, that gives us a clue about…
What you said here isn’t consistent with what you said over here…
What would you call that kind of attitude…?
Can you select another place in the story where…?
How would you compare…?
What might explain this person’s behavior?
How would you classify…?
What would happen if they continued…?
What is the relationship between…?
What ideas would justify his actions over here?
Teaching elementary-aged students with the Socratic method is the ideal way for them to be practiced in logical, reasonable thinking. With the majority of your student’s peers thinking at the lowest possible level about things, your student will excel just because he had nice conversations with you over his stories.
Now you can tell your student that since he understands Socratic dialogue, Holmes would conclude that your child is one of the smartest elementary students of all time.
Have a question about the Socratic method? Leave a comment below.