OFOCN: Socratic

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Feb
  • 27
  • 2009

The plan is to have a Socratic seminar next week as a new way of discussing the novel and to help students get closer to their idea of theme. With the final fifty pages of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest yet to come, students will surely adjust their thinking after the big events described there. But to understand the novel as completely as they can right now, I’m hoping that some guided free discussion of it will help. Care to help me choose the topics or even come up with better ones? Read on.

Times And Handouts

This takes two days since there are two roles for everyone to perform: inner (talking) and outer (observing) circles. The first day discussion is rough and short since class time is eaten due to set up and explanation. The second day discussion is usually better and lasts the entire period.

  • Dialogue And Debate (PDF) (Word) – something I picked up from an AVID conference, this helps define the purpose of a seminar like this versus actual debates
  • Socratic Seminar Rubric (PDF) (Word)
  • Dialogue And Debate Plus Rubric (PDF) (Word) – both pieces on one sheet
  • Socratic Seminar Check Sheet (PDF) (Word)


  1. We cover the Dialogue And Debate handout, just so we’re clear of our purpose. We do the same with the seminar rubric.
  2. Create an inner circle and an outer circle, about fifteen desks in each.
  3. A prompt goes on the board, one closely related to the day’s discussion topic but not identical. Pair-Share the results after five minutes of silent writing.
  4. Now that minds are hopefully in the right ballpark, reveal the discussion topic. The inner circle talks while the outer circle observes, making marks on the check sheet. The teachers stays completely out of this discussion, even when they ask questions. Eyes down; write notes on the discussion; stay out.
  5. The outer circle may sit in one time on the discussion, waiting for those in the inner circle to acknowledge their guest. The person adds their comment, then leaves without taking part in the discussion itself.
  6. At the 10 minute mark, read off notes of the discussion, ending with urging the group to focus on a particular item and reading the discussion topic again.
  7. When this is all over, again read off notes. Outer circle observers share their notes and write their comments. Those on the inner circle write the self evaluation suggested on the Socratic Seminar Rubric for homework.
  8. Repeat the next day, swapping circles and with new topics.


I started jotting down some ideas a few days ago. Operating from the idea that the topic must call upon students to refer to the text and that at least one abstract term, one that begs for definition, be used, here’s what I have so far:

  1. Arrange these sentences from least true to most true:
    • McMurphy is selfish.
    • McMurphy is selfless.
    • Nurse Ratched is helpful.
    • Nurse Ratched is harmful.
    • Bromden is becoming more sane.
    • Bromden is becoming more crazy.
  2. Every society needs Nurse Ratcheds and McMurphys in order to progress.
  3. McMurphy has been trying to help the patients become better since day one.
  4. According to Kesey, too much control creates too much rebellion.
  5. According to Kesey, there is no absolute truth because our feelings create truth, not facts.
  6. The patients on the ward are better off because of the conflict between Ratched and McMurphy.
  7. OFOCN details how all societies work and how they all eventually breakdown.
  8. OFOCN demonstrates that people in control always win in the end.
  9. OFOCN presents the idea that rebellion is an effective way to communicate.
  10. OFOCN shows that all institutions (hospitals, schools, churches, jobs, marriage, etc.) are faulty, often harmful, and are to be avoided.

Which ones would you use?


1. Student says:

[3/12/2009 - 8:07 am]

I like the first and third question. Seems they can have a longer disscusion with those.

2. Todd says:

[3/12/2009 - 2:34 pm]

Thanks for the feedback, Student. I ended up going with the first and second ones.

We just finished this today and it both days went well. I will use these prompts again in the future. It’s funny you mention the third question, though, because one period ended up talking about that very idea in order to justify their response to that day’s prompt.