Using Socratic Dialogue with NGSS Curriculum

The second step in the KnowAtom lesson routine for grades K-8 is Socratic dialogue. This is an important part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based curriculum for students of all ages. If you're new at implementing scientific discussions or looking to improve the Socratic dialogue in your classroom, it's important to set clear expectations for yourself and your students. Knowing what you should expect as a teacher-facilitator and what you should expect from your students as they become more familiar with Socratic dialogue in your science class, will help improve your results.

NGSS Socratic Dialogue

What are the basics for the best discussion?

Socratic dialogue is an essential element in KnowAtom's NGSS science curriculum. This cooperative learning activity allows students to work together to solve complex problems and make connections between new ideas and concepts and the knowledge they already have. It also encourages diverse viewpoints in the classroom and allows students to learn through their own lens, bringing their experiences, knowledge, and understanding to the science curriculum.

That doesn't mean the definitions and concepts in your science curriculum are not important, but it does mean that different ideas and thinking are encouraged. Students learn from one another. In doing so, they build essential career skills, including persuasion, active listening, cooperation, and critical thinking. They learn that listening to others' viewpoints can help strengthen their own understanding. When using claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) within a Socratic dialogue, students learn how to build evidence to justify their claim and respond to feedback from their peers.

What are the pillars of a successful Socratic dialogue?

There are three essential elements that teachers can implement to help promote an environment of thinking and engagement:

  1. Create a safe environment for students.

  2. Conduct frequent Socratic dialogues.

  3. Persist as a facilitator.

First, the environment you create should be a safe place for students. This means allowing them to take risks, ask questions, and take the lead in the discussion. If it's not safe to take a risk in your classroom, if students are allowed to laugh or ridicule each other, or if you judge their answers, then your students will be less engaged in the discussion. Learning how to implement claim, evidence, reasoning in an argument is an essential skill that students can learn through Socratic dialogue – but they must be given a safe space to develop these skills.

Next, students need a chance to practice discourse skills. That's why Socratic dialogue is a part of every KnowAtom lesson. If you only try it once or a few times a year, students won't have a chance to develop their CER skills or learn how to navigate the group dynamics of the class to make their case. They won't experience how taking a risk can pay off or learn from their mistakes. The best way to succeed at Socratic dialogue is to do them often because that impacts each discussion's overall success in the future.

Lastly, as a good facilitator, you can help students succeed. You can model your expectations for their participation. You can model curiosity and ask good questions. You can push students to think critically and communicate clearly and be more specific without shutting down their line of inquiry. Your role will change as students' discourse skills increase, moving from a facilitator to a coach, to a participant in the discussion.

What should I expect in Socratic Dialogue for myself and my students?

It's important to remember, no matter what stage of maturity your students are in the process of implementing Socratic dialogue, that it's normal for classroom discussions to get off track. Don't worry if your students wander a bit. It's normal as we talk about something to bring up things related to it. As the moderator, it's your job to identify some big ideas when you prepare for the lesson that you want students to tackle. If students begin to get off track, you can help them get back on the right path by identifying and connecting those big ideas.

What's most interesting as a teacher is that as your students practice and improve, they will take on more responsibility for the cooperative learning activity. You will release more and more responsibility to the students. At first, students learn their roles, how to interact in a group discussion and your expectations for them. They are still learning a lot directly from you in the beginning, as you model good questions, appropriate behavior, and claim, evidence, reasoning (CER).

Over time, as students practice Socratic dialogue, they will learn to ask more questions of themselves. They will take more responsibility for their own learning process and have a more active role in the classroom. This is what cooperative learning and implementing NGSS is all about.


“Growing up, I wanted to be an inventor, solving problems that would help people have better lives. Every day at KnowAtom is an opportunity to invent solutions that give thousands of students and teachers a better experience doing science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM). Providing educators with professional satisfaction and students with the opportunity to understand the world we live in is my way of helping people have better lives.”