Social Socrates

Middle school and high school
Subject: Social studies
Time: 30 minutes
Preparation: Have class follow dialogue based on "Teen Court" (Tape 2, Deliberation, Act 8, 53:00)

In deliberation, the listener plays as important a role as the speaker does. The citizen who asks the question is as important to the process as the citizen who answers the question. Think of the students in Wilson High School's Teen Court. Their questions and observations helped fill in the story told by the young defendant.

The object of this exercise is to write perceptive questions -- questions that will draw out information and help probe deeper into the issue. This form of questioning is not an adversarial model; it's a model of discovery. This exercise is useful for helping students develop analytical and critical thinking skills.

Divide the students into pairs and ask them to engage in a silent Socratic dialogue about Teen Court. Pose a hypothetical case wherein a student has been caught cheating, plagiarizing in class, or destroying school property and has been referred to Teen Court. The jury has sentenced the student to 200 hours of community service. Is this fair?

Start the process by having each student write for two minutes to complete the following:
  • "My initial reaction to this Teen Court procedure is _____________ because ______________________________________________________________."
  • Swap papers. Have each partner write two perceptive questions that they would pose as a juror. Make sure that these questions are designed to help the partner delve into the issue more critically. * Return papers and allot two minutes for responses.
  • Switch papers for two more questions.
  • Return papers and allot two minutes for responses.
  • Switch papers for two more questions.
  • Return papers for final responses.

Report the results to the class and discuss the interchange that occurred. Note the role that collaboration played in students' dialogues and how essential it is to ask the right questions when deliberating important issues.

Roberta Leach
Cleveland Public Schools
Cleveland, Ohio

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