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Socratic Seminars for Advanced Placement: Putting your Students in the HOT SEAT

Wendy Eagan


     Classroom discussion and analysis of textual and visual primary sources can be problematic at the beginning of an Advanced Placement course. The most productive best practice that I have found to facilitate effective dialogue is to assign HOT SEATS regularly during each semester. The Socratic Seminar is a practice that can be easily amended to suit the needs of each teacher, course and individual class. It is based upon the theory that a collaborative verbal forum will help each student to actively participate and think independently while listening to and reflecting upon what their peers have to say. There is emphasis on inquiry rather than "memorizing" or being "lectured to". There are many variations of this practice, but I use the three rubrics and explanations that follow. When students have the opportunity to discuss content in a small group setting, they begin to understand that there is a difference between memorization and interpretation of historical evidence.

     At the first session, I am careful to explain the difference between debate (seeking to staunchly defend a rigid position in order to be right) and discussion (remaining open to new perspectives and or interested in different points of view). The first of three free-response questions on the AP Exam is the Document Based Question (DBQ) which requires the construction of a historical argument based upon the close reading and analysis of excerpted evidence. Students must answer the question by logically grouping documents according to a historical rationale they develop. They must also identify the point of view of the author and identify the need for appropriate additional documents. Students need frequent classroom experience working with document analysis before they become proficient at these habits of mind and writing successful answers to questions such as the DBQ,

     Students are generally shy at first but after many sessions and repeated opportunity; they eventually enjoy and look forward to these seminars. My former students often tell me that these sessions helped them immensely during their freshman year in college; just as much as the essay writing we practiced in preparation for the exam. They have told me they felt confident to speak out in class and answer questions put to them by their professors.

     I structure the seminars in stages and have developed three rubrics: the first explains how graded points will be awarded, the second is an explanation of the procedure for the group seminars and the third is a variation putting more leadership responsibility on individual students after they have mastered stage two. I try to arrange two days every two weeks for seminars during the early part of the year, then I schedule them more often as students become familiar with the process. I always ask for volunteers and make sure that those who do not volunteer are assigned as well. I keep records of each session so that absences and missed classes are accounted for when determining grades. Depending upon the class size, I may split students into two groups to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate evenly. It may be appropriate to schedule one class for those who missed sessions or who want to improve their grade. Often students ask for the opportunity to be in the HOT SEAT when they want to discuss assignments they have found to be intriguing. After about three months, I find that the process becomes automatic as students often simply begin class by bringing up topics for discussion on their own. By the end of the first semester, they are running seminars on their own with much less input from me than in the beginning of the year. This is a good thing.

First Rubric:

Evidence of Learning Points Rubric

Figure 1

Formative assessment points will be accumulated over the course of several days for the Hot Seat or Question Leader Seminars during each quarter. Students may exceed the expected point range for EOL grades if they perform at a consistently proficient level. This is an asset-based activity: you will not lose points but you must gain them by proficiency.

Proficiency Points Awarded

Student contributes historically supported thematic analysis of required readings or questions submitted.

Student consistently listens to and encourages further analysis among peers.

Student does not dominate Socratic seminar sessions but politely demurs to those who have not yet analyzed for the day. If there is total silence or lack of effort by peers, he or she may contribute again.

Student has obviously read and annotated the required primary and secondary materials before the class and effectively refers to the annotations during the seminar for analysis.

Student demonstrates mastery of the six AP Historical Thinking Skills (Habits of Mind) during the seminar session: Analysis, Argumentation, Interpretation, Interpretation, Contextualization, Comparison, and Synthesis.

Not Proficient Points Not Awarded

Student does not participate, does not attempt analysis.

Student simply summarizes content rather than six skills.

Student dominates seminar when others wish to participate.

Student is not prepared by not having read or annotated assigned primary or secondary sources.

Second Rubric

AP World History: HOT SEAT

Figure 1

Socratic Seminars

  • You will be expected to analyze assigned readings when chosen for the Hot Seat: NO SUMMARY ACCEPTED!!
  • You may be asked questions by your teacher or by your HOT SEAT peers which are based upon class readings past and present
  • You may be required to pose questions to your peers outside the HOT SEATS aka the FROSTBITES
  • You will be chosen randomly for the HOT SEAT : you may pass one time during the quarter but will be chosen the second time without that option
  • You may be expected to answer questions posed by your peers or teacher even if you are a FROSTBITE during the class
  • Your responses must be analytical, replete with accurate historical evidence and NEVER repeat data that has already been analyzed during class sessions devoted to the topic
  • You may not monopolize the session nor may you interrupt your peers. This is not a debate, no room for ego, you are one of the participants not the only one. BE POLITE J J J
  • Everyone else is expected to listen and take notes if you are not in the HOT SEAT because you will be eventually and you could lose points if you are disruptive in any manner L L L
  • This procedure will prepare us for Question Leader Seminars later in the year and will be graded for "evidence of learning" points.

Third Rubric:

Hot Seat Update: Question Leaders

Figure 1

  • This quarter you will be chosen randomly to lead class discussions as the Question Leader instead of being in the Hot Seat.
  • This responsibility will rotate throughout the quarter and everyone will have this task at least one time and will be graded on questions posed to the class.
  • QL's will pose analytical and/or thematic questions based upon the assigned readings to the class and will lead the seminar discussion.
  • Typed questions are to be prepared before class and submitted to teacher after the class; they must not be available to anyone else ahead of time or you shall be guilty of academic dishonesty—resulting in immediate loss of points! I will consider this an extremely serious infraction of the assignment.
  • This activity is intended to build upon our first quarter skill development of oral analysis, evidence of learning, and understanding assigned primary and secondary sources. Your efforts will be graded on quality of analysis.
  • If you are absent for any reason short of SERIOUS ILLNESS you must email me your typed questions the night before and I will pose your questions for you.
  • If you are chosen I shall expect the highest possible standards on your analytical questions which should keep in mind CCOT, Comparison, Periodization, AP Themes, Visual and Textual Sources, etc.
  • When writing your questions, use the following directive verbs: analyze, assess, evaluate, compare (which implies contrast), describe, discuss, and explain. These are the standard terms used on the AP Exam in May for your constructed –response questions.
  • Do not take this task lightly, you have the responsibility of a LEADER and must demonstrate that to your teacher and classmates.

Wendy Eagan, World History Connected's editor for Visual Literacy teaches AP World History, Cultural Anthropology, Sociology and Comparative Religion at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. She has written features for World History Connected since November, 2003. Contact her at



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