Wrapping up The Scarlet Letter: Socratic Seminar

This week, we will wrap up Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I hope you’ve enjoyed your reading and our discussions of the novel thus far!


However, we still have much to discuss! On Wednesday, both classes will hold a Socratic Seminar. If you haven’t taken part in a Socratic Seminar before, it is basically a student-led class discussion around the entire novel. The Seminar will require YOU to pose questions, though – Ms. Antonacci doesn’t speak!

In order to prepare for our Socratic Seminar, you should reference your notes, writing, and annotations in order to write a minimum of six higher-order thinking (HOT) questions. What’s a HOT Question, you ask?

Higher Order Thinking is thinking using the three upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating. Questions at higher levels are usually more appropriate for encouraging students to think deeply and critically, problem solving, encouraging discussions, and stimulating students to seek information on their own.

HOT questions go much further than text comprehension; for example, “Describe Pearl’s behavior” is a lower-order thinking question, because we can easily point to the text to find the one correct answer. In the same vein, some more lower-order thinking questions are: “What are all of the nicknames used for Chillingworth?”, “Compare the characters of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale” and “Where is the setting of the novel?” Although these are open-ended questions, they don’t promote discussion. When you write your HOT questions, think about possible responses – people should be able to argue your question and present multiple perspectives; that is, there should be no one correct answer.

So how do you write a HOT question? (Strategies from Paideia)

Again, first think about possible responses; your questions should NOT ask students simply to remember or understand details or facts about the novel. You’re not quizzing whether they read and understood the novels or not (though, of course, this is important for your success in the Socratic Seminar). Rather, your questions should encourage other students to think deeply and elicit multiple perspectives; good Socratic questions are always open-ended, thought-provoking, and clear.

  1. Open-ended:  Questions are designed to elicit multiple perspectives. Numerous answers can be correct as long as the students stay on topic.
  2. Thought-provoking: To start, questions should spark numerous responses. Then, they should challenge students to evaluate and synthesize their ideas.
  3. Clear: Participants should be able to understand right away what the facilitator is asking. This means phrasing questions carefully to keep them short and simple, even when the topic is complex.

Think “big-picture” regarding the text and its themes, symbols, and motifs when constructing your questions – rather than focusing on little details, consider major themes we discussed in the anticipation guide and the tracing of motifs as a starting point.


The goal of opening questions is to engage all of the participants in identifying the main ideas in a text.


  • What word or phrase is most important? 
  • Which character is meant to be the hero or protagonist?
  • What is the most surprising statement in the text? 
  • What is the most striking image or metaphor? 
  • What would be another good title for this piece?

Opening questions should be designed for short answers.


The goal of core questions is to have the participants analyze the seminar text and develop their ideas about it.


  • Why is the argument structured in this way?
  • What evidence does the author use to back up his or her point of view?
  • What do the authors mean when they say ________________________?
  • How would the original audience have interpreted this statement?
  • What is the relationship between __________ and ______________ ?

During the seminar, facilitators ask increasingly demanding questions. They may ask students to support their ideas with evidence from the text; to respond to another student’s point of view; to identify the assumptions behind their thinking; or to re-evaluate their ideas, considering other perspectives or evidence.


The goal of closing questions is for participants to consider the ideas and values from the text, in real-world applications.


  • What additional points should be included in this text?
  • How would our daily lives be different without this concept or idea?
  • In your opinion, is it morally right to take the action described in this text?
  • Based on this story, do you think people’s actions are determined by fate or by choice? 

Closing questions can form the basis for follow-up writing assignments or exercises, allowing students to develop the ideas they explore through the seminar.

Please refer to the HOT question stems and guidelines for Socratic Seminar handouts Ms. Antonacci has provided you. You MUST come prepared with your questions and responses; a lack of preparation beforehand will result in points taken off your Seminar grade.

  • Guidelines:
    • A minimum of SIX HOT questions
    • Your responses to FOUR of your questions; full credit will only be awarded with text evidence in every response. (4-7 sentences minimum per response; consider multiple viewpoints.)

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