High Tech High, my former school, and the most infamous place for project-based learning in the world does not consider itself a ‘PBL’ school.

They consider themselves a dialogue school.

As a young teacher at High Tech High 20 years ago, this confounded me.

Isn’t project-based learning the north star for organizing curriculum and learning experiences? Isn’t project-based learning what brings 1000s of visitors from all over the world to the campus every year?

It took me 3 years to realize that it wasn’t projects that made High Tech High so special, but rather the continual discourse, dialogue and reflective conversations that made those projects possible.

Walk into any classroom and you will see that in action- Learners in small groups sharing opinions, diving deeper into key issues, and reflecting on what action to take. Whether it’s discussing social injustice in the community, or figuring out a way to protect the local estuary, EVERYONE is a learner, and EVERYONE has a voice.

So how do you foster this kind of dialogue and discussion in your own classroom?

I have found the #1 to foster this discourse is through Socratic Seminars.

Re-imagined from the method introduced by Socrates 2500 years ago, this method uses learner- generated questions around texts, videos, experiences to dive deeper into ideas or issues.

The goal is not to come to a resolution, but rather, to uncover varying perspectives and student voices around a topic.

Here’s how to set it up:


  1. Choose a key text, video, or experience around the project-based experience or topic you are having students explore
  2. Ask learners to annotate the key text/video with statements that surprise them (!), agree with ( 🙂 ), disagree with ( 🙁 ), and have questions around ( ? )
  3. Next, have them develop 2 key questions to bring to the seminar for discussion. Make sure these are open-ended, meaningful questions that allow for varying ideas, opinions and discourse

Conducting the Seminar

  1. Number students into two groups
  2. Set up two circles of chairs- group #1 is on the inside, group #2 on the outside
  3. Group #1 will discuss the text/video using their questions as a guide, while group #2 will observe. Ensure each student in the outside circle is observing one student on the inside.
  4. Facilitate the discussion by inviting a learner to share a question they generated
  5. Students in the inside circle are free to speak, using evidence from the text/video, and their own experience to answer the question
  6. Keep the conversation going by inviting more learners to share/pose questions
  7. During the discussion, members of the outside circle will keep tally of times their inside circle partner shared, used evidence, posed ?’s, or built on ideas

Post Seminar

After the seminar have outside circle students share feedback with the partner they observed on the inside, using the tally sheet as a reference. After they have finished discussing feedback, have the two circles swap positions, and repeat the Seminar.

** Helpful tips**

– – -> Use anchor charts that share possible sentence starters (“I’m confused by,” “tell more about”)
– – -> Use poker chips or coins to ensure equal participation (each student gets 5 and pushes one forward every time they share)
– – -> Create a few sample open-ended questions as models for the reading/video you are exploring

Finally, because I believe sharing is caring ❤️, below is a helpful video that demonstrates the Socratic Seminar process in action with 1st and 4th graders, and here is a tally sheet for the outer circle to help track participation and comments.

To building more discussion in our classrooms!