Students sitting on the grass in a circle
3-12, Critical Thinking, Games, Gamification, Teaching Tools

Socratic Smackdown

I originally learned about the “Socratic Smackdown” from the Institute of Play on Richard Byrne’s blog way back in 2014. We did Socratic Dialogue discussions frequently in my gifted classes, and my students enjoyed switching things up every once in awhile with this gamified version. The original source of the “Socratic Smackdown” file seemed to disappear for a few years, so I hesitated to recommend it even though I have the PDF already downloaded. However, I am happy to say that I received an email last week that the Institute of Play has transferred its files over to Connected Learning Alliance. You can find and download the “Socratic Smackdown” by going to this link, and clicking on the “Learning Games” button. Here are the rules:

Rules for “Socratic Smackdown” from Institute of Play

The “Socratic Smackdown” packet provides discussion strategies (my students loved “Devil’s Advocate”), score cards, a rubric, and more. You can, of course, make whatever adaptations you need to account for the number and ability levels of students participating.

We didn’t use “Socratic Smackdown” every time we did a Socratic Dialogue, but it was definitely requested every time. Even when we didn’t use it, I could tell that students were more mindful of the discussion strategies that they used, so their metacognition definitely increased.

“Socratic Smackdown” can be used with any class, not just gifted pull-outs — though it probably is best with 3rd grade and up. In fact, this is actually one activity that benefits from a bit higher numbers in your class because you can have more teams and a more lively discussion.

There are other free resources available for download on this transplanted Institute of Play site, including a “Systems Thinking Design Pack,” so I encourage you to check some of those out as well.

3-12, Education

Speaking Goal Cards

Although I believe they were originally designed to help English Language Learners increase their participation, the simplicity of each slide in The Speaking Goal Cards from @TanELLClassroom would be a great way to begin any class period or discussion in which you want to encourage participation.  They can prompt students to focus on certain speaking skills, or even help reluctant speakers to create a scaffolded action plan for a semester.  Thanks to @TanELL for sharing this on Twitter!

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5-8, Critical Thinking, Depth and Complexity, Education, Language Arts, Philosophy, Teaching Tools, Websites, Writing


I was so thrilled to see this post by Richard Byrne (who is one of my favorite Engaging Educators!) about CommonLit.

This is going to be an awesome resource for me to use with my 4th and 5th grade GT students.  I will let Richard tell you the details, but suffice it to say that it is a great way to encourage deep discussion in your class, and offers downloadable texts that you can use to tantalize your students with philosophical questions.

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image from

I plan to use this with Socratic Smackdown (which I also found out about from Richard).  Socratic Smackdown has been a great success in my classroom and CommonLit will augment it even more.

You might also want to consider using some of the CommonLit themes to enrich your students’ writing if they are participating in this year’s Philosophy Slam (deadline is 3/6/15). The “Social Change and Revolution” theme on CommonLit could definitely help students determine if violence or compassion has a greater impact on society.


3-12, Behavior, Careers, Education, Motivation, Philosophy, Social Studies, Teaching Tools

Mandela’s Eight Lessons of Leadership

photo credit: p_c_w via photopin cc
photo credit: p_c_w via photopin cc

Nelson Mandela, unfortunately, may not be in good health right now.  However, this great man, who has made such a positive impact on our world, will be immortal through the re-telling of his words and actions. Recently, I found an article from 2008 by Richard Stengel in which he lists and explains the lessons of leadership the author, himself, has learned from various conversations with Mandela over the years.  One that I would like to discuss with my students in a Socratic Dialogue is the 8th one:  “Quitting is leading, too.”   Before reading to them Mandela’s justification for these words, I would like to hear how they feel about quitting.  Is it ever okay?  Can we trust someone who has quit something to lead us?  I anticipate an intense discussion over this topic!  To read the other 7 lessons of leadership, and the examples from Mandela’s life, click here.