Skip to content

The Thinker’s Guide to The Art of Socratic Questioning

By Linda Elder and Richard Paul, this is a good book on Socratic Questioning. Linking the how and why in an understandable way, it makes a powerful coaching technique readily available.

That this links Socratic Questioning with Critical Thinking is an added, and unexpected, bonus.


Socratic questioning is disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes,

Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, and deep, and usually focuses on foundational concepts, principles, theories, issues, or problems.

to help them develop intellectual humility in the process

Socrates himself thought that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching

It is critical thinking that provides the tools for doing this, for analyzing and assessing reasoning.

Success in thinking depends on our ability to identify the components of thinking

All thought reflects an agenda or purpose.

All thought is responsive to a question.

All thoughts presuppose an information base.

All thought requires the making of inferences, the drawing of conclusions, the creation of meaning.

All thought involves the application of concepts.

All thought rests upon assumptions.

All thought is headed in a direction.

All thought takes place within a point of view or frame of reference.

Recognize that thinking is always more or less clear

Recognize that thinking is always more or less precise

Recognize that thinking is always more or less accurate

Recognize that thinking is always capable of straying from the task, question, problem, or issue under consideration.

Recognize that thinking can either function at the surface of things or probe beneath that surface to deeper matters and issues.

Recognize that thinking can be more or less broad-minded (or narrow-minded) and that breadth of thinking requires the thinker to think insightfully within more than one point of view or frame of reference.

With one-system questions, there is an established procedure or method for finding the answer.

With no-system questions, the question is properly answered in accordance with one’s subjective preference; there is no “correct” answer.

With conflicting-system questions, there are multiple competing viewpoints from which, and within which, one might reasonably pursue an answer to the question.

If there are no facts we need to consider, then it is a matter of personal preference.

If the facts settle the question, then it is a “one-system” procedural question.

it is useful to approach a complex question by first formulating and then answering simple questions embedded in the question,

When addressing a complex question covering more than one domain of thought, make each domain explicit.

loosely categorize three general forms of Socratic questioning and distinguish three basic kinds of preparation for each: spontaneous, exploratory, and focused.

All thinking has assumptions;

any discussion—any thinking—guided by Socratic questioning is structured and disciplined.

students have two sources of belief:

beliefs that the student forms as a result of personal experience, inward thinking,

beliefs that the student learns through instruction by adults (at home and at school).

People believe in many things for irrational reasons:

operational beliefs of students contain egocentric, sociocentric, and irrational beliefs, mixed together with rational, reasonable, and sensible beliefs.

students do not generally apply what they learn in school to life’s issues and problems.

it is important for students to have opportunities to verbalize the two sets of beliefs, to find harmony or contradictions between them.

teach students to question anything and everything that seems questionable, and then to assess answers using intellectual standards.

The first will control their deeds, especially private deeds; the second will control their words, especially public words.

Model the fact that every comment is given due consideration.

If students don’t respond to a question, wait.

it is through our questions that we understand the world and everything in it.

values of critical thinking (truth, open-mindedness, empathy, autonomy, rationality, and self-critique)

fully understanding a situation usually requires a synthesis of knowledge and insight from several subjects.

Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought.

Questions of purpose force us to define our task.

Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.

Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information.

Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted.

Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going.

Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.

Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question.

Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness.

Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific.

Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions.

Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together,

no thought is ever “complete” in itself, but is always open to further development.

Investigating the truth of a theory or opinion.

Eliciting and developing an idea present in the mind but not yet developed or actualized.

Leading the answerer to a logical or valid conclusion,

Eliciting admission, on the part of an opponent, of a statement or conclusion that can then be examined for truth or falsity.