Images and Socratic Dialogue

In my first year of teaching, I thought images were pointless. For most history and science lessons, my co-teacher would hand me a map of a battle or an image of light being split by a prism and tell me that I should pass them out and use them in my lesson. That first year, I greatly disliked each handout I had to pass out. It took time out of my class for the passing out process to happen and it felt like these sheets just became something for my students to doodle on. These handouts seemed to waste valuable time that I wanted to use to lecture at my students. After all, wasn’t I the one in the room that knew the details of the battle or the scientific principle of light refraction? 

It wasn’t until my second year that I realized the flaw in my thinking. Lecturing at my students isn’t what I as a teacher should be spending my time doing. If I spend all the time talking, my students aren’t taking on any of the mental load. I am doing all the thinking for them. As classical schools, we strive to emulate Socrates’ method of teaching through asking questions. In my second year of teaching, I realized that giving the students a visual allowed me to ask many more questions that they could use that image to help answer. Here are some examples of how using images can bolster socratic dialogue:

Battle Maps:

The map below illustrates the British and American positions during the Battle of Yorktown. In this decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, the British believed that having water at their back would allow their navy to come with reinforcements. However, the French navy defeated the British navy and were able to sail up the York River to surround the British. Thus, what the British thought would be a greatly strategic location turned out to be their downfall.

Image: British Battle of Yorktown – 

Once the students have this map in their hands, I can guide them to explain the dangers of this position for the British by using questioning such as this:

  • Where did the British choose to set up their fort? Why do you think the British thought this would be a good location?
  • What do you think the British would plan to do if the Americans on land started to close in on them? What escape routes do they have?
  • Who else in our story has a strong navy? How could that present a problem for the British?

Scientific Processes:

The image below illustrates the four steps of forming a sedimentary rock. To form this type of rock, eroded material becomes deposited in a new place. Over time, as increasing layers of sediments are deposited, the pressure builds, squeezing the sediments together. Finally, dissolved minerals in the water will crystalize between the sediment pieces, gluing them together. Here are some questions I can ask to help my students explain this process:

Image: Nitty Gritty Science: Rocks and Minerals – 

  • Follow the arrows on this image. Can you explain what is happening in each step?
  • What causes the sediment pieces to become so squeezed together? Why does this happen?
  • The last step is called “cementation.” What word do you recognize in that term? What do you think is happening to the sediment in this step?

This way of conducting instruction has made my teaching so much richer and more involved with the students. Instead of standing at my podium preaching at them all day, the use of images has allowed me to be more effective in my teaching. Now, my students have to reason through why something occurs rather than just have me tell them. Images are truly such a powerful tool in the classroom.