Socratic Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence

Socrates Bust Sketch

Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence

Questions of Clarification

  • What do you mean by ____?
  • What is your main point?
  • How does _____ relate to _____?
  • Could you put that another way?
  • Is your basic point _____ or _____?
  • What do you think is the main issue here?
  • Let me see if I understand you; do you mean _____ or _____?
  • How does this relate to our problem/discussion/issue?
  • What do you, Mike, mean by this remark? What do you take Mike to mean by his remark?
  • Jane, can you summarize in your own words what Richard said? . . . Richard, is this what you meant?
  • Could you give me an example?
  • Would this be an example, . . .?
  • Could you explain this further?
  • Would you say more about that?
  • Why do you say that?

Questions that Probe Assumptions

  • What are you assuming?
  • What is Jenny assuming?
  • What could we assume instead?
  • You seem to be assuming _____. Do I understand you correctly?
  • All of your reasoning depends on the idea that _____. Why have you based your reasoning on _____ instead of _____?
  • You seem to be assuming _____. How do you justify taking that for granted?
  • Is that always the case? Why do you think the assumption holds here?
  • Why would someone make that assumption?

Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence

  • What would be an example?
  • How do you know?
  • Why do you think that is true?
  • Do you have any evidence for that?
  • What difference does that make?
  • What are your reasons for saying that?
  • What other information do you need?
  • Could you explain your reasons to us?
  • Are these reasons adequate?
  • Why do you say that?
  • What led you to that belief?
  • How does that apply to this case?
  • What would change your mind?
  • But, is that good evidence for that belief?
  • Is there a reason to doubt that evidence?
  • Who is in a position to know that is true?
  • What would you say to someone who said that ____?
  •  Can someone else give evidence to support that view?
  • By what reasoning did you come to that conclusion?
  • How could we find out if that is true?

Questions about Viewpoints or Perspectives

  • What are you implying by that?  (The term “imply” will require clarification when used with younger students.)
  • When you say _____, are you implying _____?
  • But, if that happened, what else would happen as a result? Why?
  • What effect would that have?
  • Would that necessarily happen or only possibly/probably happen?
  • What is an alternative?
  • If _____ and _____ are the case, then what might also be true?
  • If we say that ____ is ethical, how about _____?

Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences

  • How can we find out?
  • What does this question assume?
  • Would _____ ask this question differently?
  • How could someone settle this question?
  • Can we break this question down at all?
  • Is this question clear? Do we understand it?
  • Is this question easy or hard to answer? Why?
  • Does this question ask us to evaluate something? What?
  • Do we all agree that this is the question?
  • To answer this question, what other questions must we answer first?
  • I’m not sure I understand how you are interpreting this question. Is this the same as _____?
  • How would _____ state the issue?
  • Why is this issue important?
  • Is this the most important question, or is there an underlying question that is really the issue?

Questions about the Question

This list is from a tutorial at Fermi Lab.  The webpage is available here:

The table on the Fermi page listed above was adapted from Paul, Richard. Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, 1993.

Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, and heads an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.
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