Socratic Questioning

Socratic Questioning

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Socratic questioning (named after Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher) is a systematic and deep form of questioning, expressly meant to help others learn. It usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, or problems and aims to challenge assumptions and implicit prejudices, and to investigate complex issues. Socratic questioning requires the teacher to pretend ignorance about a given topic in order to acquire learners' knowledge of the subject. Also known as “dialectical approach”, this type of questioning enables learners to clarify logical implications of ideas and to determine their validity; it helps to correct misconceptions and facilitates active learning as well as knowledge construction. Through continuous evaluating and rephrasing questions, learners improve problem-solving skills, critical thinking and long-term retention of knowledge.[1]

Toolkit.png Conducting a Socratic Questioning

General guidelines

  1. Be a model of ‘critical thinking’. Respect learners' views, check out their understanding, and show authentic interest in their ideas.
  2. Promote a positive and stimulating learning environment. Acknowledge the value of each contribution and make learners feel both challenged and comfortable in answering questions.
  3. Ask clear and specific questions. Formulate questions that can encourage and guide the discussion; avoid yes/no questions, as well as ambiguous or too complex ones.
  4. Let learners think before answering. Give learners at least 5-10 seconds to reflect upon your question; don’t be afraid of the silence.
  5. Regularly summarize the main points discussed. For instance, you might write them down on a blackboard.
  6. Involve as many learners as possible in the discussion. Draw up their attention and invite the most quite ones to speak; avoid the discussion being monopolized by few participants.

Questions you might ask

  1. Questions of clarification
    • Is the question clear?
    • Before answering this question, what other questions should we answer?
    • What do you mean when you say …?
    • What is your main point?
    • Can you give us an example?
  2. Questions that probe assumptions
    • What are you assuming here?
    • You seem to be assuming ... : do I understand your point correctly?
    • How would you support your assumption?
    • Is it always the case?
    • Is this necessary or only possible/probable?
  3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence
    • What evidence supports your view?
    • Could you doubt that evidence?
    • Can someone else give evidence to support that viewpoint?
    • How could we verify that hypothesis?
    • How did you come to that conclusion?
  4. Questions that probe implications and consequences
    • What are you implying here?
    • What effect it would have?
    • What generalization could we make from this case?
    • What prediction could we make concerning what will happen?[2]

Job Aid

Pdf.png conducting a Socratic Questioning


  1. Paul, R., Critical Thinking: How To Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, Foundation for Critical Thinking, Santa Rosa, CA 1993; (20 October 2011); (29 October 2011); (29 October 2011); (29 October 2011)
  2. Paul, R., Critical Thinking: How To Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, Foundation for Critical Thinking, Santa Rosa, CA 1993; (29 October 2011)