Socratic questioning is a form of disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we do not know, to follow out logical consequences of thought or to control discussions. Socratic questioning is based on the foundation that thinking has structured logic, and allows underlying thoughts to be questioned. The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, deep and usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues or problems.
Socratic questioning is referred to in teaching, and has gained currency as a concept in education, particularly in the past two decades. Teachers, students, or anyone interested in probing thinking at a deep level can construct Socratic questions and engage in these questions. Socratic questioning and its variants have also been extensively used in psychotherapy.
When teachers use Socratic questioning in teaching, their purpose may be to probe student thinking, to determine the extent of student knowledge on a given topic, issue or subject, to model Socratic questioning for students or to help students analyze a concept or line of reasoning. It is suggested that students should learn the discipline of Socratic questioning so that they begin to use it in reasoning through complex issues, in understanding and assessing the thinking of others and in following-out the implications of what they and others think. In fact, Socrates himself thought that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching.
In teaching, teachers can use Socratic questioning for at least two purposes:
Socratic questioning illuminates the importance of questioning in learning. This includes differentiating between systematic and fragmented thinking, while forcing individuals to understand the root of their knowledge and ideas. Educators who support the use of Socratic Questioning in educational settings argues that it helps students become active and independent learners. Examples of Socratic questions that are used for students in educational settings: