The Socratic Method

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“Only by really listening to each other, it becomes possible to reach a deeper level of understanding and knowledge.” Annelieke Dortant, teacher philosophy (“levensbeschouwing”) at a secondary school in Utrecht in the Netherlands, volunteered this spring to facilitate several group meetings at AEI, using dialogue as method to explore deeper values. Here is her brief impression of a women’s teacher group meeting at the Sumud Story House, at the end of April.

“The purpose of the meeting was to show teachers how they can implement the Socratic Method in their classes. The main goals of the Socratic Method are

-          deeper understanding of the topic and being able to listen without judging each other (which is very hard!)

The group members were sitting in a circle, to be physically aware of the connections and equality between them. We followed four stages. The conversation leader had to make sure they were separated carefully.


First stage: write down your own ideas that come to mind when you reflect upon the presented question. In this case: “What does being a Palestinian mean to you?”

Second stage: Reading some of the answers and asking each other questions about them in an open way. Without judgment. Examples of good questions:

What does that mean for you? Can you give an example? The conversation-leader wrote down all ideas presented in the second stage. (This makes it possible to decide which ideas will be chosen in the fourth stage).

Third stage: Discussion and reacting on each other’s ideas as presented in stage two. Also a possibility to share stories.

Fourth stage: Reaching consensus. On what definitions do we all agree? Only when we all agree the conversation leader will write the definitions on the consensus paper.

Experiences with the Teacher Group

Although the teachers were really eager to learn, especially the second stage seemed to be hard for some. The main question released so much frustrations, ideas and stories that it seemed to be hard to stick to only asking as required in this stage. Still all were afterwards satisfied. They liked the workshop and some teachers would like to try it in their own class. Even if their pupils may be too young for the implementation of the method, training in asking open questions may be attractive for all children.

Some of the words put on the paper sheet may be fertile ground for another Socratic session. ‘What does occupation mean to you’? ‘What does pride mean to you’, and so on. We concluded in the evaluation that the main question needed more focus.”

Annelieke Dortant

Bethlehem, April 2015

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