One of the biggest struggles I used to have with my students during Socratic seminars was getting them to discuss the book when they first started reading it. It felt like there wasn’t much to say until about halfway through the story when we were already meeting for a few weeks. The conversations were dull until the main character started to be developed more and began building to the problem of the story.
Below is a list of strategies I like to use to get the conversation going at the beginning of each class novel:
For example, students were reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and at the same time, learning about the civil rights movement. At the very beginning of the book, the author writes that people in the city were afraid to go to the other side of the town (one town was deemed the “black” side and the other was the “white” side). By drawing on their understanding of segregation and how it attributed to people’s perspectives of each other, students were able to have a rich conversation around just one sentence written in Maniac Magee.
Find alternate media that connects: There are plenty of real-life topics that come up in a novel almost right away. It’s a great idea to delve into those types of things from the start by sharing an article, YouTube video, or short story that relate and lend themselves well to conversation. For example, my class was reading the novel, Blended by Sharon M. Draper. This story is about a girl who’s parents are divorced and she splits her weeks between her mom’s house and her dad’s house. I brought in an article about the different ways in which families share custody and the class discussed their opinions of these different options. Some kids who are living in a similar situation were able to really connect and share about their experiences with split custody. It was a really great Socratic seminar after they read just the first few chapters.
It can be really difficult to have an authentic and meaningful conversation when you’re just starting out the novel, BUT it IS possible. Try the suggestions above and leave me some feedback on how it works for your students and if you have any other suggestions, we’d love to hear them!
Still not sure where to start with Socratic seminars?
Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer