A Special Socratic Seminar

By Lauren Salisbury
March 27, 2019

I was over-the-moon excited when @_KELewis proposed a play adaptation of Frank Stockton’s short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” for the April issue of Scope. My first thought? It’s time for a Socratic seminar! The story lends itself perfectly to this discussion strategy because of its ambiguous ending and its exploration of powerful ideas—love and jealousy, choices and consequences, justice and injustice.

Below, I’ve rounded up my favorite thought-provoking questions from all of our activities for “The Choice” and put them into a Socratic seminar format. I hope this strategy helps your students gain a deeper understanding of the text and find value in the shared exploration of questions.

Some quick tips

The text:
Read the play aloud as a class the day before the seminar. (You may want to preview challenging vocabulary words that are highlighted in bold in the play using this activity.) Then have students reread the play independently as a “Do-Now” upon entering the classroom the day of the seminar. Be sure they are equipped with a pencil, highlighter, sticky notes—anything they might need for annotating the text throughout the class period.    

The classroom:
Have your classroom arranged so that students can look at each other directly. (On the day prior to a seminar, instead of having my last period class put their chairs up, I would have them help me move the desks and chairs into a circle.) Make sure your class discussion norms and discussion stem anchor charts are visible for easy student reference.

The questions:
Below you’ll find a list of various questions types to help you facilitate a rich discussion: A Key Question meant to be answered first in a round-robin fashion; Level 1 Questions (literal questions used to ensure comprehension), Level 2 Questions (questions that require students to analyze text and make inferences), and Level 3 questions (evaluative questions that rely on student experiences and opinions rather than the text itself). Of course, these questions are meant to be discussed without raising of hands and in any order. Let students lead the dialogue; you can pick and choose moments to pose the questions that you think will help them dig deeper, clarify their thinking, and support their conclusions. Finally, at the end of this post you’ll find some options for culminating tasks—various writing activities to help students reflect upon the day’s reading, thinking, speaking, and listening.

 

 

  • Who was behind the door, the lady, or the tiger? (Go around the circle, round-robin style. One-word answers only!)

 

 

 

  • How would you describe the king’s system of justice?
  • What is the definition of “impartial”?
  • In Scene 3, what does Thomas mean by “prickly”?
  • In Scene 3, Princess Margaret says that her mother’s “disposition was like that of a bee—she could sting and she could be sweet as honey.” What does she mean?

 

 

 

  • How does Princess Margaret feel about her father’s justice system?
  • How does the public feel about the king’s system of justice?
  • Is Princess Margaret like her mother? How or how not?
  • Princess Margaret gives Thomas her mother’s brooch. Is this a “sweet” act or a “prickly” one?
  • In Scene 3, Princess Margaret says that Thomas loves her. King John replies, “Of course he does. You’re a princess. He has everything to gain . . .”  What does the king mean by this?
  • In Scene 4, why is Princess Margaret hiding a piece of meat under her cloak?
  • What conflicting emotions are influencing Princess Margaret’s behavior?
  • At the end of the play, Thomas opens the door that the princess indicates. Based on this act, what can you infer about Thomas?

 

 

 

  • Why is the king’s system of justice unjust? Is it unjust for anyone other than the accused?
  • In Scene 5, Lady Anne and Lady Helen talk to Princess Margaret about her dilemma. What advice would you give Princess Margaret?
  • Which is more powerful: love or jealousy?
  • Do some dilemmas have no solution?
  • Agree or disagree: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.”—Sirius Black. How does this quote apply to Princess Margaret?
  • What responsibility do authors have to their readers?
  • Do stories have the power to make us question what we believe?
  • According to Frank Stockton, readers of “The Lady, or the Tiger?” wrote to tell him that he “had no right to impose upon the good nature of the public in that manner.” Why do you think some readers were upset by the ending of the story? Were YOU upset by the ending of the story?
  • Why do you think Frank Stockton wrote “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

 

 

 

  • Complete a 3-2-1 exit ticket: “What I heard others say . . . ”/“What I said . . . ”/“What I’m still thinking about . . . ”
  • Write another scene for the play, in which we discover what Princess Margaret decided and how that decision affects her and the kingdom.
  • Rewrite the final scene of the play in the form of a news broadcast in which you are reporting on live TV what is happening in the arena.
  • Write a literary review of the play, focusing on the effect of the ambiguous ending. Does it make the play more thought provoking? Less memorable? More intriguing? Less profound?
  • Complete the Drawing Conclusions Featured-Skill Activity, a guided-writing activity for the writing prompt on page 21 of the printed magazine.
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