Tips on How to Survive Your Next Socratic Seminar

Tips+on+How+to+Survive+Your+Next+Socratic+Seminar

Alex Levin and Alex Levin

By Alex Levin

Since we started attending school online, English and history teachers have been doing an excellent job in keeping Zoom classes lively and enjoyable, but I feel that there is one major experience missing: the Socratic seminar.

No, I am not talking about the Zoom discussions that involve “raising” your virtual hand and half-heartedly talking about something while you simultaneously scroll through your social media.

Rather, I am referring to the in-person extravaganzas where the chairs are arranged like a gladiator arena, participation is mandatory and you’re only doing it because your teacher didn’t feel like grading another end-of-unit test.

But let’s be honest – when we return to hybrid learning, between attending masked sports practices, finishing your asynchronous math test and catching up on the latest episodes of Wandavision, how can you be expected to fully prepare to discuss the various themes throughout Romeo and Juliet?

Don’t worry: I have compiled a list of strategies to make sure that your next Socratic seminar goes as smoothly as possible – with the least amount of effort, of course.

The “Speak First” Method:

Effort Level: 2/10

Description: Nobody wants to start off a Socratic seminar… well, nobody except for you! All you have to do to perfectly execute this strategy is thoroughly research one topic before the seminar, and then raise your hand to be the first one to speak. The best part is that you can say legitimately anything: even if you kick off a Lord of the Flies discussion with a deep analysis of electronic fly-swatters, it’s not technically off-topic, so the teacher will write down that you participated, and depending on how many students are in your class, you probably won’t have time to speak again. Then all you have to do for the remaining time is sit back and watch your peers argue over Iago’s true intentions (we’re still talking about Romeo and Juliet, right?)

Potential setbacks: There’s always that one kid always raises their hand who is really excited about the Socratic seminar. Don’t let them raise their hand and speak before you do. Be aggressive. (Knock ‘em down, box ‘em out, do whatever it takes. The world is your oyster.)

The “Piggybacker” Method:

Effort Level: 4/10

Description: A fan favorite, the piggybacking strategy will make your teacher think that you actually finished The Great Gatsby (yes, even that weird, final chapter). The only thing you have to do during the Socratic seminar is listen to your more intelligent, harder-working classmates make eloquent arguments, and then when the time is right, raise your hand to say, “just going off of what he/she said…” After reciting this key phrase, make the exact same point as your classmate previously did, but with slightly different, spicier wording so your teacher assumes your thoughts are original. Also, don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit. Rather than using the traditional “piggybacking” or “going off of” phrasing, maybe try a more colorful option, such as “kickflipping off of what she said” or “landing a triple-back handstand 360 gainer off of what she said.” Teachers appreciate it when you utilize your flamboyant, ostentatious vernacular.

Potential setbacks: This is a very popular strategy. If too many people decide to piggyback, nobody will have anything valuable to say, and your teacher might assign an in-class essay. I would not recommend it.

The “Act-Passionately” Method

Effort Level: 8/10

Description: You don’t need to actually be interested in your English class for this strategy to succeed, you just need to, you guessed it– act passionately! Stand on top of your desk, raise your hand high, speak with intense passion and enthusiasm about something that has nothing to do with the book! It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you put on a show. Even if you blurt out random nonsense, you participated, and you participated with spirit; that’s all that matters. However, with all of your theatrics, the teacher will definitely call on you, so be prepared to make something up on the spot. As long as you reference Holden Caulfield’s red hunting hat, you should be in the clear.

Potential setbacks: Don’t take it too far. Seriously, there’s a line. If your teacher lectures your class about classroom etiquette the next day while staring directly at you, you know you’ve crossed that line.

The “Come-Out-Of-Nowhere” Method

Effort Level: 3/10 or 10/10

Description: “Wait a second, you haven’t participated all semester. Who are you? Are you even in this class?” This is what your teacher will say to you if this strategy goes according to plan. Depending on the type of person you are, using this method will either be surprisingly easy or will require deliberate planning. For instance, if you are naturally introverted or shy, this method will be a cakewalk. All you have to do is be yourself (aka never say anything) for the majority of the semester, and then pipe up once the seminar begins. The teacher has never heard your voice before, so she will be so surprised that you actually contributed and give you full credit. Pretty genius, eh? If you aren’t an introvert, however, and you still want to pull off this strategy, you will need to hold back the urge to participate during every class leading up to the Socratic seminar, which might jeopardize your semester-long participation grade. 

Potential setbacks: If this strategy sounds like too much effort, or if you actually want to participate during the year, maybe you should just prepare for the Socratic seminar like a normal person and not take advice from a mediocre newspaper article.