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How Law Professors Use the Socratic Method

The Socratic Method is a method of teaching in which professors ask students questions in order to stimulate critical thinking. It's an effective way of teaching, but it can also terrifying when you're the student waiting to get called on.

While all four of my core professors use the socratic method, they use it in different ways.

In my first class, Criminal Law, the professor picks a different starting point each class, which is usually the end of a row. He goes down the line, having each student work through a case. If you're the first student called on, you're out of luck. But if you're second, third, or further down the line, you can anticipate which case you'll be discussing and have some time to prepare. This professor starts by asking the facts of the case, then works through the application of the law, and hypotheticals. If you don't know, or seem to be struggling, he'll invite other students to answer.

My second class, Tort Law, the professor works in a similar way. He'll call on a student at random to present the facts, then ask what the court decided, why they decided it, etc. This professor is very into props and acting out cases, so whoever gets called on will often have to act out what happened, or at least direct another student to act it out. Instead of going in order, the professor will call another student at random for the next case. If you are obviously unprepared or unfamiliar with the case, he'll often ask the student next to you. This professor also will invite other answers and opinions from the class.

Next is my Contracts class. For some reason, everyone is the most terrified to get called on in this class. He calls at random and once you get called, it's all on you for about 5-10 minutes, until he moves on to the next case. The professor calls your name, gives you the facts of the case, then asks why or why not a contract/bargaining/consideration was made. This professor gives us a guide of the questions he asks so we can prepare ourselves while doing the reading. Also, if you answer wrong, he will rephrase his question until you get the right answer. Though he's never mean or harsh towards students that he calls on, I think this class is the most intimidating because you're in the spotlight for so long, and you have the questions ahead of time so there's more pressure to be prepared.

Finally, is my property class. This professor calls at random occasionally, but will usually ask for volunteers. While this teacher always has a smile on her face (literally for all 90 minutes of class), she has no problem flat out telling you when you're wrong and asking someone else. The chances of getting called on are lower, but the chances she'll point it out if you say something dumb are high.

Bottom line, if you come prepared and make an attempt to answer the question, the socratic method is nothing to be afraid of. Teachers are there to teach, and want to create an environment that fosters learning and discussion. Also, everyone is in the same boat and understands what it feels like to give a dumb answer or no answer at all. In my experience, your classmates will have your back.

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