Teaching Math Socratically

Here are a few tips on how to help when your child gets stuck or hits a road block in math. Here are a few thoughts on how to help your learner with math while using a Socratic method:

Teaching Math Socratically

The goal of Socratic guiding is to help someone else learn to think more
clearly. In other words, questions and struggles are more important than

If your goal is to help someone get the right answer – and particularly to get an
answer more quickly or without struggle – then this is cheating you and the
person you are helping and a violation of the Active Leadership Academy honor code.

How do I know if I’m being non-Socratic?

If you are asking someone to help you take a shortcut in learning, you are
being non-Socratic.

For example: “Can you just check my answer?” is taking a
shortcut – you need to learn to check your own answers.

Likewise, “fill in the blank” questions like: “Can you multiply __ times ___
times ___?” gives someone the answer of how to structure a problem, rather
than forcing them to learn the

Keys to the Socratic Method:

Below are some of the keys to the Socratic Method in math:

No shortcuts. Someone has to do the basic work first.

Ask “Have you watched the videos?” and “What example problems have you tried?” before you sit down to Guide. If the person hasn’t done the work, you cannot help them.

Remember that the goal of Socratic question is NOT to help someone get the
right answer. It’s to help walk alongside someone, while they learn to think
more clearly and critically.

Good Socratic questions focus on the process of solving a problem or making
choices, never on answers.

Example of Socratic Math Questions

Is the problem being solved simple or complex?

Can you restate the problem in your own words?

What information do you know?

What information are you trying to find out? Why does it matter?

Is it harder to set up the problem correctly or solve it once it is set up?

Are there few or many steps required to solve the problem?

What’s the hardest step in setting up the problem?

Do you need to keep track of intermediate answers in an organized way? How
will you do this?

Is your biggest challenge not understanding the process or is it carefully
keeping track of the arithmetic so you don’t make any careless mistakes?

Is addition, subtraction, multiplication or division more important?

Do you find this skill particularly hard or easy? Why?

What other math skill does this resemble? Why?

How is this skill similar or different than other skills you’ve learned? (Be

Is this new skill more important in the real world or to help you think more
clearly? Why?

How might you use this in the real world?

What are the next steps you will take to master this problem?

Is there a distraction I can help you remove to solve this?

Are you in the right frame of mind to tackle this problem? If not, what needs
to change?

Should you set a deadline and a time to study for yourself?