Socratic Questioning

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What is Socratic Questioning?

The key to independent thinking, reason, and critical thinking skills.

The philosopher Socrates utilized an educational method that focused on discovering answers by asking questions from his students. This approach allows the student to think more independently, using their own reasoning and critical thinking skills to draw their own conclusions.

Using Socratic Questioning helps students beyond the class. This method develops a student’s ability to reason through complex issues, assess and understand the thinking of others, and to calculate the implications of what they and others think.

Why Does Socratic Questioning Work?

Reasoning, Motivation, and Active Participation


When I was a kid, I knew that I was supposed to turnout, but it took some time for this concept to sink into my dancing. It wasn’t until a teacher explained to me why you turnout that this concept finally clicked for me. It wasn’t from a lack of effort, I just needed to understand its importance.

Ballet takes a lot of effort to do correctly. Every muscle has to be activated. It is hard, uncomfortable, and fatiguing. Motivating your students to make the extra effort and use the correct muscles can be difficult. They know they are supposed to do it a certain way, but why should they bother? What’s the big deal?


Motivation is the key to training quality dancers. You might have the most talented, flexible, intelligent kid in the world, but if they have no motivation to try more or work harder, they will never reach their full potential. Ballet takes a considerable amount of effort and kids need a reason before they are willing to make that sort of effort.

If you struggle with motivating your students I highly suggest trying the Socratic Teaching Method in your class. Through this method I have had great success helping my students come up with their own conclusions, gain a deeper understanding about ballet technique, and inspire them to incorporate better technique within their dancing.

Active Participation

Active participation is another reason Socratic Questioning is so successful. Ballet classes are traditionally quiet. The teacher talks and you listen. At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do… but many student find themselves tuning out. When you ask your students questions and involve them in the process, they become more engaged in class. They become active participants in the conversation and thus more engaged in class.

How Can You Apply Socratic Questioning in Dance Class?

Socratic Questioning is one of the most effective teaching methods I use in class. I teach ages 5-18 and have found that this style of questioning works for all ages. Here are a few examples of how I use this technique in my ballet classes:

Questions for Clarification

Instead of explaining everything yourself, ask your students to do the explaining.

When I have a combined class, I will split them into groups and have the older students teach the younger ones a movement or combo. The older student becomes the teacher and is put into a situation where they have to verbally clarify and direct. This improves their own understanding and retention of that information.

Asking for clarification can also inspire self-reflection. If a student has an altercation in class, ask them to explain their actions. This forces the student to reflect on their own actions, not just their punishment or admonishment.

You can also, show examples of a movement and ask what is wrong or what is missing. When they call the answer, ask them how to fix it. This exercise encourages students to become proactive problem solvers. Instead of waiting to be corrected, your students are able to self-evaluate, correct, and progress much faster.


Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence

Your students may know they should do a step a certain way, but do your students understand why?

There is a reason behind everything we do in ballet. Understanding why we utilize certain techniques helps students understand the benefits of ballet technique and motivates them to use it in their dancing.

To help my students better understand the concept of turning out, I have my youngest students pair up and stand a sixth position. Then I ask them to try pushing their partner forward, backwards, and sideways. They are able to remain standing when they are pushed backwards and forwards, but not sideways. Next I have them stand in first position and try again with better results. Through this line of experimentation, students are able to look at the evidence and discover for themselves that turnout gives you more stability.

Questions that Probe Assumptions

We make many assumptions about ballet. Your need to turnout, your feet must be pointed, but why do we do these things?

It is safe to assume that anytime your foot is off the floor, it needs to be pointed, but that doesn’t motivate my students to always do so.

In order to help my students understand why we point our feet in ballet, I have them try jumping. First with flexed feet and the second time with pointed feet. Then I ask, “Which jump was higher?”. I have them try other ballet jumps and compare the results. Once they have concluded that pointing their feet helps them jump higher, I ask them, “Why do you think that is the case?”. Through their own deduction they come to realize that by pointing their feet they end up using not only the muscles in their legs to jump, but also the muscles surrounding their ankles and toes to help push off the floor. More muscles equals more power, and more power means higher jumps.

Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences

There is a reason behind everything we do in ballet. Sometimes to understand why you should do a step a certain way, we must first understand the consequences of not using the right technique.

For example, I use cause and effect questions to teach my 5 year old students about alignment.

I have them try balancing on demi-pointe and then ask, “What happens when they relax their stomachs.” The students relax their stomachs and they tell me, “We fall forwards.” Then I ask them, “What happens if you relax your bottom?” They all try it out and tell me, “We fall backwards!” “So what muscles to you have to use to keep yourself from falling backwards or forwards?” “Our stomach muscles and our bottoms.” By observing the consequences of each action, students are able to draw their own conclusions and draw a deeper understanding of the cause and effect of ballet technique.