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Protocol Toolkit Item: 4q


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A protocol that allows for expanded communication by exploring questions and statements and engaging in collaborative discovery through discourse. (This protocol is adapted from AVID Press resources).


  • Chairs (moveable)
  • Space to create a circle of chairs
  • Question bank


30-50 Minutes


Room Set Up In preparation for this protocol, the facilitator will need to arrange chairs in a circle for one-half the number of participants, plus an additional chair. Half of the participants will actively participate in the Socratic Seminar dialogue, while the other half will stand behind the chairs as observers. The added chair will be empty. This will serve as the Hot Seat so Outside Circle participants can “pop in and pop out” by taking the seat, commenting or asking a question, and then returning to the Outside Circle of observers. An additional circle of chairs can be set up outside the inner circle if the facilitator would like observers to be able to sit during this protocol.   If there are more than 50 participants, the group should be divided into two smaller groups (Group A and B), and two Socratic Seminars can occur simultaneously. The arrangement of chairs outlined above must be duplicated to accommodate each small group.  Question Bank Preparation Questions that can be used to initiate dialogue should be prepared in advance either by participants or by the facilitator. Some options for a source of questions might be:
  1. The Circle questions developed when the participants completed a topic-related “Square Circle Triangle” Protocol (CEI Self-Assessment/Reflection Protocol 9b)
  2. Questions developed by participants but not addressed or discussed during a CEI Communication Protocol 4b “Collective Dialogue Through Question and Answer Spotlight.”
  3. Other questions developed previously that still need to be addressed by the group. 
  4. Pre-planned questions the facilitators believe participants need to discuss.
The questions should be written one per paper or sticky note so that each Inside Circle participant can share a question during the protocol.


Step 1:

 Introduce Protocol Share the following information with participants:   Note: The information shared in this step can be built into presentation slides and displayed while the facilitator(s) introduces the protocol.  
  • The group will participate in a Socratic Seminar, a form of critical thinking and communication rooted in Greek philosophy. It is also a highly effective teaching strategy and can be seen in restorative justice practices.
  • Socratic Seminars move groups into open dialogue rather than debate. A Socratic Seminar supports the following:
    • Engages participants in collaborative discussion, where multiple sides work toward shared understanding.
    • Allows participants to “listen to understand,” make meaning, and find common ground.
    • Enlarges and possibly changes a participant’s point of view.
    • Creates an open-minded attitude, an openness to thinking differently, and the possibility of change.
    • Expects other people’s reflections will help improve understanding rather than threaten it.
    • Calls for temporarily suspending one’s beliefs.
    • Searches for strengths in all positions.
    • Respects other participants and seeks not to alienate or offend.
    • Assumes that many people have answers and that cooperation can lead to workable solutions.
    • Remains open-ended.
  • Facilitator(s) should describe the seating and roles for the Inside and Outside circles (see diagram and description above)
  • Outside Circle participants will act as co-pilots for the person sitting in front of them in the Inside Circle. Outside circle co-pilots may switch places with their Inside Circle partner throughout the conversation if they would like to.
  • Facilitator(s) should also describe how the Hot Seat will be empty and is used for participants in the Outside Circle to “pop in and out” of the dialogue.
  • Share Socratic Seminar ground rules (adapt to fit the needs of the group):
    • Talk to each other, not just to the facilitator(s).
    • Ask questions if you do not understand what someone has said, or you can paraphrase what another person has said for clarification (“I think you said_____, do I understand correctly?”).
    • You do not need to raise your hand to speak, but please pay attention to your “airtime”- how much you have talked in relation to how much other participants have spoken.
    • Don’t interrupt.
    • Don’t “put down” the ideas of others. Without judging the person you disagree with, state your alternate interpretation or ask a follow-up question to help probe or clarify an idea.
  • One person in the Outer Circle will be a designated Notetaker. Notes will be shared with the entire group at a later time. 
    • Provide the notetaker with the Notetaking Worksheet for Socratic Seminars. See the Resources section for a link to the document.

Step 2:

 Socratic Seminar Implementation
  • Facilitator(s) ask participants to volunteer to be in the Inner Circle, and the remaining participants should stand behind those in the Inside Circle, creating the Outer Circle. Outside Circle participants are the co-pilots for those in the Inside Circle.
  • Participants move to the circles.
  • One Outside Circle participant should be designated as the Notetaker and can stand behind the Hot Seat. Provide this person with a copy of the Notetaker Guide.
  • Inside Circle participants are each given a piece of paper or sticky note with one question (see Question Bank Preparation above).
  • Each participant reads their questions to the whole group. 
  • After all the questions have been read, the Inside Circle and their co-pilot in the Outside Circle take 2 minutes to discuss their preferred order of discussing the questions. 
  • Inside Circle participants then share the order preferences they and their co-pilot discussed, and a question order is decided upon.
    • This should be a quick process; complete consensus or voting is unnecessary.
  • The Inside Circle begins the dialogue, starting with dialogue around the first question.
  • The process continues for about 15 minutes, at which time the facilitator(s) remind the participants that the Inside Circle participants can switch places with their co-pilot at any time. This allows someone from the Outside Circle to become part of the Inside Circle. 
  • Facilitator can also remind the Outside Circle participants that they can jump into and out of the Hot Seat at any time to ask a question or make a comment.
  • It is typical for a group to only discuss a few of the initially prepared questions. Facilitator(s) should allow the conversations to flow naturally and not be concerned with moving the dialogue in any direction or be concerned with addressing all questions.
    • Only when it is clear that a question’s topic has been thoroughly exhausted should the facilitator(s) prompt the group to move on to the next question.
  • Allow the dialogue to continue to flow until 5 minutes remain. The dialogue should be brought to an end.

Step 3:

Notetaker Share Out
  • Ask the Notetaker to share the observations and thoughts they captured on the Notetaking Guide with the group.
  • The notes can be shared with all participants electronically after the meeting, workshop, or session.

Step 4:

 Whole Group Debrief (Optional)
  • An optional debrief of the Socratic Seminar can also be included based on the allotted time. 
  • All participants should discuss the following debrief questions:
    • What did you like about the Socratic Seminar?
    • What might you change about the experience?
    • What resonated with you or connected to your work or role in the group?

Resources & Further Reading

Examples of Use

  • Can be used following a Square Circle Triangle Protocol, where the questions generated (Circles) become the questions used in the Socratic Seminar.
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