Socratic Questions for Reflection

The Problem

Generic questions (e.g. those on the 4Rs model of levels of reflection) provide a good starting point to guide students’ reflective thinking. However, in making sense of experiences in new environments (e.g. field experiences or service learning experiences), students may have to challenge their own assumptions. This can involve asking themselves, and others, quite specific, probing, questions to get them to start thinking about their experiences in a different way.

The Context

Socratic questioning is a well-known questioning framework which can be a useful alternative to the 4Rs model. Introducing students to the Socratic questioning technique can help them to formulate their own questions in order to probe the complex issues they encounter. A Fishbowl Reflection (FBR) activity can be modified to provide a non-threatening environment in which this can occur.

The Pattern

  1. Introduce the Socratic questioning technique to students. (The website provides an overview of Socratic questions – see Resource 1. There are other similar web resources.)
  2. Establish a focus: some aspect of field experience that students found problematic. In small groups, students prepare for the class activity. One student, the “problem presenter” needs to highlight the key elements of their problem succinctly in response to Socratic questions from other members of the group who are seeking to understand the problem. Establish rules about how the discussion should proceed and allow some time for students to practise these roles.
  3. Seek volunteers for the Fishbowl: one person to be the problem presenter, 3-4 people to use Socratic questions to get further information about the problem. The rest of the class as observers.
  4. To make the activity more interactive, allow observers to ‘tap into’ the activity. That is, if an observer thinks of a question, they tap one of the questioners on the shoulder and replace them in the fishbowl.
  5. After 5-10 minutes, review the activity. Ask questions such as: How are we doing as a group so far? What are we doing well? What could we do better? Do we have agreement on the problem?
  6. Depending on the review, continue with the current issue or move onto another. Conclude the activity with additional questions such as: What action are you going to take as a result of this session? Were you helped?

Related Patterns

Fishbowl Reflection (FBR): Some previous experience with the Fishbowl reflection pattern will mean that students can concentrate on developing their questioning.



An example of Socratic questions:


Ansers, G. (2011). What an argument is [Image.] Retrieved August 21, 2011 from


Lenore Adie (Education) has contributed to this pattern. She has introduced Socratic questioning to Education students as a strategy they can (a) use to reflect on their field experiences, and (b) adapt for their own classroom assessment practices.