Let’s Talk: Engaging Students in High Level Dialogue

by Dr. Laura C. Moran

Have you ever been out to dinner and noticed that the patrons sitting at the next table are all on their devices and not talking to each other? The persons on their devices aren’t just adolescents, but also include adults. With the advancements in technology, we are losing some basic aspects around speaking and listening which may include how to actively participate in conversation, engage in civil discourse, and debate thoughtfully.

In the PA Core Standards for English Language Arts, there are five standard categories that are designed to provide a Pre K-12 continuum to reflect the demands of college- and career-ready:

Standard 1: Foundation Skills (Pre K-Grade 5)
Standard 2: Reading Informational Text
Standard 3: Reading Literature
Standard 4: Writing
Standard 5: Speaking and Listening

Standard 5: Speaking and Listening focuses on communication skills that enable critical listening and the effective presentation of ideas. In many cases, Standard 5 may not be emphasized as much as it should since it is not assessed in the same manner as Standards 1-4; however, it is still very important.

One way in which to enhance speaking and listening skills in the classroom is Socratic seminar. In recent years, training has been offered by PaTTAN and IU consultants using the Paideia model which entails “active learning [that] fosters critical and creative thinking through Socratic seminar, intellectual coaching, and mastery of information.” For more information about the Paideia philosophy and model, check out their website at

In addition to this training, PaTTAN had the opportunity to capture the Socratic Seminar process in a high school classroom. The video below provides an overview of Socratic seminar in which Mrs. Ann Sheffer, an experienced English teacher, takes the audience through the various components of implementing an effective Socratic seminar.

Supporting Diverse Learners with the PA Common Core & Keystones – Socratic Seminar: Full Program

The beauty of Socratic seminar is it can be implemented in any subject area and at any grade level. For more ideas and ways in which to conduct a Socratic seminar, consult the Paideia website which provides examples of Socratic Lesson Plans

Whether in the classroom or out to dinner with family and friends, consider ways in which to engage in conversation whether that involves asking good questions, listening to others, or simply putting your phone away. You’ll be amazed how much learning takes place by speaking and listening and exchanging ideas through dialogue.

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