Over the past few years, our Lower School faculty have been using The Daily 5™ structure, which emphasizes reading instruction in comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanding vocabulary.  Thus, reading and comprehension are placed at the center of our language arts instruction.  As Richard Allington, a former president of the Literacy Research Association, has pointed out, increasing the time students spend reading is correlated with greater reading success.  Through “read to self” and “read to someone” from The Daily 5™ structure, children are provided with daily practice reading books, poems, and other texts.

In addition to the comprehension lessons we provide to small groups and individuals, we have added another context for enhancing reading instruction in 3rd grade — the Socratic Circle.  The Socratic Circle is a structure designed to help students discuss complex questions about a shared text.  We have adapted this process for use with 3rd grade’s Junior Great Book Series.

The process begins with the entire class reading a story together.  With teacher guidance, we discuss vocabulary, focus on prosody, and check for understanding.  On the second day of the process, the children reread the story during either “read to self” or “read to someone.”  At this point, students note their questions.  A second reading also helps children see the value of repeated readings as they develop a deeper understanding of the story.

Finally, on the third day, the children are ready to participate in a Socratic Circle discussion.  The group is divided into two parts: an inner circle and an outer circle.  The children in the outer circle are each assigned a partner in the inner circle to observe during the discussion and given a paper on which to track their observations.  A teacher directs the beginning of the inner circle’s discussion with an initiating question that requires critical thinking skills.  The discussion that ensues is led by the students, who follow discussion guidelines set out during the first few Socratic Circles.  After approximately 10 minutes, the outer circle uses the observation forms to provide feedback to inner circle discussion participants.  Then, the two groups trade roles and repeat the process.  After all the children have been part of both the inner and outer circles, they are given a writing prompt to which they are asked to respond.

Although this is the first year our students have participated in Socratic Circles, we, as their teachers, have been thrilled with the outcomes.  The children have become consistent close readers who provide textual evidence for the ideas they discuss and write about.  Secondly, the children are thrilled to participate in an equitable discussion where everyone is given the opportunity to speak.  In fact, it is the students that ensure that each peer has had a turn in the discussion.  Thirdly, the students’ use of textual evidence during discussion is transferring over to the writing they complete after the discussion, which prepares them for academic writing in the years ahead.

The students, too, are delighted with this process.  At the end of it all, the kids have one consistent question: “When is our next Socratic Circle?”

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.