Published Works for Teachers

Four Corners Discussion

The Four Corners Discussion was adapted from the Academic Controversy strategy (Herreid, 1996) and is built around four answer choices, each one represented in a different corner of the room. Once students make a decision to select one of the answers, they move to the corner of the room that represents that answer. In their corners, students hold a discussion about why they selected the particular answer. Students are given more information about the topic and repeat the process.

Four Corners Discussion gives teacher-coaches immediate feedback as they see students moving to one of the four corners. This does not judge right or wrong answers but allows the teacher-coaches a quick snapshot of students’ thinking about a topic progresses. It also can provide students with an unexpected sense of camaraderie among classmates as they participate with others who think similarly.

How to Do It

To begin, create some content area questions about a topic, making sure that students can have four different responses, not just yes or no but shades of gray as well. It is usually best to think of this in terms of multiple-choice answers. Or as a slighting scale of agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, and degree reactions to a given question. For example, when referring to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  students could be asked, “Is it okay for someone like Goldilocks to enter the home of strangers without permission, eat their food, and use their furniture?” This example shows an open-ended question with four possible answers. With these statements, students must select a response and discuss it in their corners.

To begin:

1.  Gather students in the center of the room.

2.  Pose an open-ended question or statement for the students.

3. Show the class that there are four choices posted in each of the corners of the room.

4.   Give students a minute to think about their possible answer, and then tell each student to move to the corner that best represents his or her opinion.

5.  Allow students in each corner time to discuss their opinions and to explain why they selected the specific corner over the others.

6.   Have each corner share aloud their reasoning for their perspective.

7.  Have all students return to their seats. Distribute a new piece of information, giving them a new opinion, viewpoint, or greater depth of the issue or question.

8. Repeat the process of allowing students to go to a corner of their choice, discuss their reasoning, and then share aloud to the class.

8. Continue to repeat the process each time with more viewpoints or layers of information.

Once the activity has been described in detail to students, you may wish to implement negotiable contracting of assessment. This way, students know exactly what behaviors are expected of them and how they will be assessed during the activity. Samples may include listening skills, speaking clearly, and providing evidence to support his or her opinion.

The teacher-coach can walk around charting how well students are engaging in the activity based on the criteria from negotiable contracting.

Ideas for Assessment

This strategy gives teacher-coaches a quick visual of how their students think about a topic. By asking questions that clarify student thinking, a teacher-coach can find out why a student made a particular decision. To keep track, a teacher-coach can use a classroom map with corners noted on it. Write student names, initials, or student numbers in each corner to show where he or she ended up.

Applying the Strategy                                                                      

In science class, ask students what they think will happen before the experiment is performed. Give students four choices to choose from, and have them explain their choices in the four corners. Then, perform the experiment and see who was correct. In language arts, pose four possible reasons why a protagonist acted in a specific manner. In Social Studies students can discuss how they would react to a situation if they were the president. With each added layer of information, they may change their strategy to solve a given issue.

from (c) 2014, Active Learning Across the Content Areas (Conklin & Stix)