Educational studies support the fact that in class participation enhances overall learning; Socratic Circles are one such tool used to encourage genuine and thoughtful participation from a maximum number of students in a given class period. Since students are divided in half for each Socratic Circle, they have a smaller pool of peers to “compete” with to share their ideas, something that helps shyer or more reluctant speakers find their voice. There is increased engagement with the material when participation is required like in this circle setting, for when participation is required, students prepare more for class, which in turn increases comprehension.

Class discussions, like Socratic Circles, also help students remember and retain information. Sometimes hearing a peer explain a concept using teenage vernacular can actually make an idea “stick” when the teacher’s verbiage might have gone over their heads.

In Mrs. Parsons’ English classes, Socratic Circles happen at least once for every major book, sometimes twice, so their regular frequency in the classroom helps to confirm and reinforce learning. Foundational themes and concepts are built from discussion to discussion, and positive reinforcement from the teacher and their peers helps validate students opinions.

Having a chance to verbalize ideas floating around in their heads actually helps clarify meaning for students, especially through asking questions. Probing questions from the teacher – as well as their peers – can move thinking to a deeper level. Together the class as a whole can unpack greater meaning in a piece of literature than a solo reader can.

In Mr. Mabry’s AP U.S. History classes, Socratic Circles have been transformational in his classroom. These scored discussions act as another assessment format for his history course. Students are given a set list of questions a few class periods in advance to study and research and prepare for the discussion. During the discussion students are able to use their research notes and textbook as a reference – this is not a test of memory, this is a task in discussion and argumentation. The goal is to have the students engage in student driven discussion, and this setting presents that opportunity for students to engage with the content in a different way from a normal test standard format.


Here are some things that AP Literature students had to say about Socratic Circles:


  • Socratic Circles promote engagement and deeper thinking in the classroom as the students are able to openly discuss their thoughts and epiphanies regarding the class readings. The open-floor discussion allows students to interact with each other, as well as the teacher, to freely ask questions and dive deeper into the text.
  • Socratic circles force students to engage within an environment that is unlike any of an average day in the classroom. Instead, you literally face your fellow classmates and have the opportunity to get insights on ideas and concepts you have never thought about before from fellow students; sometimes hearing something from a student rather than a teacher can be a nice change and can effectively wake a student up to what they should be looking for in the literature.
  • Socratic circles positively impact student engagement by encouraging more participation through creating a sense of comfort and assurance in the class discussion without feeling self-conscious of one’s own thoughts or ideas.
  • As a verbal processor, Socratic seminars help elucidate previously unseen ideas and toss them around in a group to fully bring them out, often ideas I had never seen before.
  • Socratic Circles increase student involvement with the text because it encourages them to search through the book more thoroughly so they can bring up more insightful points during conversations.