Socratic Dialogue, Multimodal Version

  • 1) The group agreeing on a question, for example: “What is friendship?”
    • Taking time to establish the question
    • Teacher as a moderator, clarifying the rules, intervening if something goes wrong, encouraging everyone to participate
  • 2) Each participant may bring in an example that embodies the question.
    • Something real from the world, with details.
      • Life experiences.
      • Not things one has read about.
      • No famous philosophers!
    • From reading material: as many examples as can be found.
    • Zooming in on the most promising examples to explore the question.
      • This provides material to proceed with.
  • 3) Picking and exploring the examples from different angles.
    • May be a few selected examples, with teenagers usually one example is chosen.
    • Going into some kind of depth
    • Discussion and resonance may be brought in, sharing similar experiences
  • 4) Drawing conclusions
    • What can be said on the topic now, based on the shared exploration?
    • What do we have now, to continue exploring?
    • Clarifying but not answering: a summary


  • Activating collective thinking, collective dialogue
    • Not debating or general discussion
    • Not trying to answer the questions
  • To teach students that they can think for themselves, not needing philosophers to do it for them.
  • The material to think with is the concreteness of everyday life experience.
  • Shifts ideas of what people think they already know.

Who with:

  • With any group: the structure remains the same
  • About 10 participants is ideal
  • It is important to establish a safe environment in the group before moving on to the Socratic Dialogue
    • The teacher needs to feel out if this would be a good method for the group, as very personal experiences may be discussed.
    • With teenagers, the questions that come up are usually more personal and intimate, things that they deal with in their lives.
    • No need to share anything one doesn’t feel comfortable sharing.


  • In schools: one step per one lesson
    • Giving clear instructions on the exercise in the lesson before. Step 1 starting from the beginning of the following lesson.
  • A shorter version: bringing in a question to start with.
  • A follow-up assignment possibility:
    • Write a short report/reflection on the exercise, how you experienced it.
    • Put it in relation to a philosopher’s text.
      • Purpose: Relating that there is no difference, another perspective on what doing philosophy is. No opposition between theory and practice.


  • Basic version: 4 h – 1 d for each step

Author: Martijn Boven, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, The Netherlands.