Shared Inquiry Handbook

Shared Inquiry

Great Books discussion groups are forums for thoughtful readers. Discussions are lively, friendly, sometimes contentious—and a good deal of fun. The object of a Great Books discussion is not to go home with the "right answer." Participants challenge their own and others' beliefs and opinions in the light of a rich, thought-provoking text.

Great Books discussions employ a method called Shared Inquiry. Shared Inquiry is a Socratic, collaborative, and question-driven discussion method.

The leader's role is to advance conversation through careful questioning, letting participants reflect and speak.


  • Read the selection carefully before participating in the discussion. This ensures that all participants are equally prepared to talk about the ideas in the work.
  • Support your ideas with evidence from the text. This keeps discussion focused on understanding the selection and enables the group to weigh textual support for different answers.
  • Discuss the ideas in the selection and try to understand them fully before exploring issues that go beyond the selection. Reflection on the ideas in the text and evidence to support them makes the exploration of related issues more productive.
  • Listen to other participants and respond to them directly. Directing your comments and questions to other group members, not always the leader, will make the discussion livelier and more dynamic.
  • Expect the leader to only ask questions. Effective leaders help participants develop their own ideas, with everyone gaining a new understanding in the process. Participants should look to the leader for questions, not answers.

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