How to Ask (Better Homeschool Questions) Like Socrates {video}

socratic dialogue homeschool classical education

If You Want a Homeschool Kid Who Knows How to Think, Learn How to Ask Qs

In this episode of The Classical Scholar’s Mom’s Course Teaching Workshop, Christie and I are chatting about the art of asking questions like Socrates.  Asking good questions is an ancient classical teaching method, and I like to combine the approaches of two ancient Greek thinkers:  Socrates and Aristotle. Aristotle practiced analytical observation (knowledge comes from experience – think scientific method) while Socrates believed that understanding can be coaxed out of every student’s awareness (knowledge is intrinsic) through directed inquiry.

Download the teaching slides[Before you watch the workshop, please (1) download the slides and (2) the LINCOLN example pdf to take notes.]

What is the Socratic Method?

Socratic dialogue starts with an informed mentor like Socrates (YOU) and a knowledgeable, but unaware disciple like Euthyphro (your child).  Before you start the conversation, come up with your teaching objective.  What do you want your child to understand as a “takeaway” by the end of your discussion?  Keep that ultimate idea in mind as you ask your questions.  For example, if you’re studying…

  • Twain’s Huck Finn…talk about deception or friendship (interpretive questions)
  • Butterflies…talk about the life-cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to winged adult (factual questions)
  • Geometry…explore how shapes are used in architecture (contextual questions)
  • Vietnam War…think about what might have happened if JFK had not been assassinated (hypothetical questions)

Now let me explain the four different types of questions that Aristotle or Socrates might have used to help their students become better critical thinkers.

To Improve Critical Thinking Skills, Ask 4 Kinds of Questions

I like to use four levels of Socratic questions which increase in difficulty from easiest (factual) to most challenging (hypothetical).  In a teaching session with a younger child, you might only focus on the first type of questions (factual) until you and the child get really good at finding the correct answers.  For an older teen, you could use advance through all four levels in one sitting, or pick and choose spontaneously as the discussion develops.

  1. FACTUAL – the answers are found within the text (WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN)

  2. INTERPRETIVE – the answers are found within the text (WHY)

  3. CONTEXTUAL – the answers can be in or outside of the text; connect to something they already know (WOULD, SHOULD, ARE, DO, CAN)

  4. HYPOTHETICAL – the answers are pure conjecture based on observations, analysis, or imagination (IF THEN)

Practice all four types of questions with your husband the next time you’re watching the news together or reading the paper.  Start with the factual questions:

  • WHO is the news story about?
  • WHAT problem do they have?
  • WHERE did the story originate?
  • WHEN did the story take place?

Then move on to the WHY questions and so forth.  The more you do this, the easier it gets!

Teaching Resources

  • Socratic-QuestionsThe Organon, Aristotle (I warn you, this is tedious reading, so go there with a caffeinated brain)
  • The Republic, Socrates (Reeve’s translation is formatted as leading Q & A, so it’s easy to see the development of questioning)
  • Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address Example (don’t worry about the section called “Inductive Analysis” === that’s for the high school student)
  • Workshop slides (file this in your homeschool planning notebook under class # 3, Teaching Strategies)

I hope you found this method of Socratic Dialogue helpful!  If you ask leading questions like Socrates, you’ll be a better teacher, and your kids will be become sharper at critical thinking skills.  Mark you calendar now for the next Teaching Workshop hosted by The Classical Scholar’s Mom’s Course which is always on the first Friday of the month at 4pm ET.

You’re doing a great job homeschooling your kids, bright mom!


P.S.  Did you enjoy this coaching workshop from The Classical Scholar?  As a lifetime member of our Mom’s Course, you’ll get a new workshop every month.  Watch this FREE sample workshop on vocabulary skills, and consider joining our community of bright, creative homeschooling moms! Watch this FREE coaching workshop on teaching vocabulary.

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