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Take Your Tutoring to the Next Level with the Socratic Method


Tutoring can be a rewarding and fun job! Especially if you’re interested in working in education and you enjoy helping others understand challenging material. Your #1 goal as a tutor is to make yourself obsolete.

Wait, what?

If you think about it, your students hired you because they’re having an extra hard time in class. They want to understand class content, and if you tutor them in a way that allows them to eventually not need you anymore, you’ve done your job! You want to set your students up for academic success, and if they’re able to confidently study on their own, that’s awesome!

So, how can you make yourself obsolete?

One of the best tutoring techniques you can use is the Socratic method. Whether you’re just getting started or have been tutoring for years, this method can help you become even more effective during your lessons. But first…

What is the Socratic method?

Let’s start with the name itself. “Socratic” stems from Socrates, a Greek philosopher who was one of the key architects of Western philosophy. His students, such as Plato, documented Socrates’ teachings, one of which is the Socratic method.

In a nutshell, the Socratic method has you use questions to break down concepts or problems. By asking questions and having your students answer them, you allow your students to organically learn and come to conclusions on their own.

This method contrasts with the method of first explaining a concept or doing a problem as an example, and then having your students do practice questions on their own. Instead of providing an explanation, you open a dialogue through questions and answers that facilitate your students’ discovery of the material.

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Benefits of the Socratic method

A number of benefits are associated with this method. First, you avoid spoon-feeding your students information. It’s easy for students to say that they understand a concept after you explain it to them; unfortunately, they may forget what you explained to them the next day. By posing questions and having your students come up with answers on their own, you’ll increase their chances of retaining the information they’re learning.

Secondly, you help your students become critical thinkers. It’s normal in class for teachers to just lecture and for students to just take notes. Using the Socratic method gives students an opportunity to take a more active role in their education. Again, your goal as a tutor is to make yourself obsolete. If you can teach your students to become critical thinkers, you’re helping them become better learners who will hopefully no longer need tutoring.

Finally, you make the lesson itself more engaging. Because you’re both participating in this dialogue, you and your students are required to be active. The questions and answers that spring from your discussion will naturally be more fun than the passive learning that can happen when you merely explain concepts to your students.

How to apply the Socratic method

At this point, you might be thinking, “But how will my students answer questions if they’re already totally confused by the class material?” Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you apply the Socratic Method:

Tip #1: Ask bitesize questions

If your student is completely overwhelmed, start by asking, “What do you know?” By having your student identify what he or she knows, you not only give your student a chance to sort through his or her notes, but also the confidence that he or she does know something.

From there, you can begin asking a series of questions that will help your student understand the material. Guide your student through the material with questions and have him or her uncover new concepts individually.

Another helpful question you can ask is, “What’s challenging about ____?” If you have your student articiulate what’s difficult, you can then help them pinpoint the cause of the difficulty. From there, you can come up with ways to address it.

Tip #2: Do provide some answers if your student is truly lost

There are times when you can’t 100% use the Socratic method and that’s okay! If you need to provide context to the class material, go ahead and provide it. You don’t want your student to feel even more frustrated with your questions. Just be sure to not spend the entire lesson explaining the material — resume asking questions and engaging in a dialogue as soon as you can.

Tip #3: Have your student recap what you covered at the end of the lesson

Though this tip isn’t directly related to the Socratic method, it’s helpful to have your student recap what you did. If your student is able to share with you what they learned, then you know that they are slowly but surely retaining the content you covered. It also helps you determine if the Socratic method works for your student.

And there you have it! Take your tutoring to the next level by using the Socratic method to keep your students engaged, both with the material and during your lessons!

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