Characteristics of an Effective Seminar Participant

In a posting from two years ago on “class participation,” I mention a handout that details characteristics of an effective seminar participant. Here it is!

I use it at the start of the semester as a way for students to identify their conversational strengths and weaknesses or points of discomfort. It is also handy for goal-setting and assessment!

Pasted below that, you’ll find the questions I use for the Socratic Seminar worksheet itself, also discussed in the previous post on class participation. My colleague Meg Petersen shared both of these with me many years ago. They may have come out of the National Writing Project. Enjoy!

The Effective Seminar Participant


  • speaks to everyone in the class or group and not just to the teacher or leader
  • follows up on and refers to comments others have made
  • actively draws others into the discussion
  • encourages and supports those who might be reluctant to participate
  • tries to ensure that all voices are heard
  • asks follow-up questions such as : Why so you think so? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Tell me more. Can you give an example?
  • avoids extended dialogues with one other person

Collaboration in building ideas

  • has read the assigned material and comes to class prepared to participate
  • refers to classmates by name
  • demonstrates engagement in the discussion
  • listens openly, fully  and actively to the contributions of others
  • allows wait time
  • understands that consensus is built, rather than won, and thus avoids arguing to prove a point
  • understands that knowledge evolves through interaction with others, and therefore appreciates the importance of his or her contribution
  • advances even tentative opinions and thoughts, understanding that sometimes these open the doors to new understandings.

Genuine inquiry

  • asks clarifying questions
  • values time and eliminates repetitious or extraneous discussion
  • refrains from launching into particular stories, except very briefly to connect to a point.
  • refrains from advice giving, trying to fix blame, or story-telling
  • respects differences of opinions
  • respectfully challenges ideas
  • shares contradictory information for the sake of discussion
  • refers back to the text to support and clarify points
  • communicates in such a way as to honor the norms of civil discourse
  • understands that there is never an absolute answer, but a process through which you will see multiple answers- a complexity of possibilities that brings us closer to fuller understanding


Socratic Seminar Observation Form

Actively listen and observe the Socratic seminar and address the question listed below.  Be as specific and detailed as you can:

What text (s) is/are being used?

  1. What were the most important ideas expressed during the conversation (substantive contributions)?
  2. Procedural
    1. Cite two positive procedural contributions you observed during the seminar.
    2. Were there any negative procedural issues? If so, cite one.
  3. At what point did the conversation dive to a deeper level?  What particular response or question created that change?
  4. What thoughts occurred to you about the reading as you listened to the seminar discussion?

Self Assessment:

  • Preparation—Have you done the readings?  have you selected relevant, specific points to discuss?
  • Questioning—Do you challenge other group members respectfully?  Do you ask good probing and clarifying questions?
  • Participation—Do you refer to classmates by name?  Draw out those who are reluctant to participate?  Build on others’ ideas? Are you self-aware and refrain from dominating the discussion or making repetitious or extraneous points?
  • Engagement—Do you refer to comments others have made?  Do you refer back to specific points in the text?

Write Self-Assessment Here:









One comment on “Characteristics of an Effective Seminar Participant

  1. […] Seminar, complete with a list of characteristics of an “Effective Seminar Participant,” posted here, that has gradually and totally transformed my experiences with class discussion and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s