Engage Students With a Four Corners Debate

students working on project together

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Want to run a debate where every voice in the classroom is equally "heard"? Want to guarantee 100% participation in an activity? Want to find out what your students think about a controversial topic collectively? OR want to know what each student thinks about that same topic individually?

If you do, then the Four Corners Debate strategy is for you!

Regardless of subject content area, this activity requires the participation of all students by making everyone take a position on a specific statement. Students give their opinion or approval to a prompt given by the teacher. Students move and stand under one of the following signs in each corner of the room: strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree.

This strategy is kinesthetic as it requires that students move around the classroom. This strategy also encourages speaking and listening skills when students discuss the reasons they selected an opinion in small groups.

Scenarios for Use

As a pre-learning activity, drawing out students’ opinions on a topic they are about to study, can be useful and prevent unnecessary re-teaching. For example, physical education/health teachers can find out if there are misconceptions about health and fitness while social studies teachers can find out what students already know a topic such as the Electoral College.

This strategy requires students to apply what they have learned in making an argument. The four corners strategy can be used as an exit or follow-through activity. For example, math teachers can find out if students now know how to find slope.

Four Corners can also be used as a pre-writing activity. It can be used as a brainstorm activity where students gather as many opinions as they can from their friends. Students can use these opinions as evidence in their arguments.

Once the opinion signs are placed in each corner of the classroom, they can be reused throughout the school year.

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Step 1: Select an Opinion Statement

step 1 four corners debate


Select a statement that can require an opinion or a controversial topic or a complicated problem appropriate tied to the content you are teaching. Examples of such statements are listed by discipline below: 

  • Physical education: Should physical education be mandatory for all students every day of the school week?
  • Math: True or False? (Be ready to offer proof or counterpoint): You were once exactly three feet tall.
  • English: Should we get rid of English classes in high school?
  • Science: Should humans be cloned?
  • Psychology: Do violent video games contribute to youth violence?
  • Geography: Should jobs be subcontracted into developing countries?
  • Social studies: Should citizens of the United States that have declared war on the United States forfeit their Constitutional rights?
  • ESL: Is Reading English more difficult than writing English?
  • General: Is the grading system used in high school effective?
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Step 2: Prepare Room

step 2 prepare the room


Use poster board or chart paper to create four signs. In large letters write one of the following across the first poster board. Use a poster board for each one for each of the following:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

One poster should be placed in each of the four corners of the classroom. 

Note: These posters can be left up to be used throughout the school year. 

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Step 3: Read Statement and Give Time

step 3 read the statement


  1. Explain to the students the purpose for having the debate, and that you will be using a four corners strategy to help students prepare for an informal debate.
  2. Read the statement or topic you have selected to use in the debate out loud to the class; display the statement for everyone to see.  
  3. Give the students 3-5 minutes to quietly process the statement so that each student has time to determine how he or she feels about the statement. 
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Step 4: "Move to Your Corner"

step 4 move to corner


After students have had time to think about the statement, ask the students to move to the poster in one of the four corners that best represents how they feel about the statement.

Explain that while there is no "right" or "wrong" answer, they may be called on individually to explain their reason for the choices:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

Students will move to the poster that best expresses their opinions. Allow several minutes for this sorting. Encourage students to make an individual choice, not a choice to be with peers.

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Step 5: Meet With Groups

step 5 meet with groups


The students will sort themselves into groups. There may be four groups evenly gathered in different corners of the classroom or you may have all students standing under one poster. The number of students gathered under one of the posters will not matter.

As soon as everyone is sorted, ask students to think first about some of the reasons they are standing underneath an opinion statement.

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Step 6: Note-Taker

step 6 note taker


  1. Appoint one student in each corner to be a notetaker. If there are a large number of students under one corner, break students into smaller groups under the opinion statement and have several notetakers.
  2. Give students 5-10 minutes to discuss with the other students in their corner the reasons they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree.
  3. Have the notetaker for a group record the reasons on a piece of chart paper so they are visible to all.
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Step 7: Share Results

step 7 share results


  1. Have the notetakers or a member of the group share the reasons the members of their group gave for choosing the opinion expressed on the poster. 
  2. Read out the lists to show the variety of opinions on a topic. 
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Final Thoughts: Variations and Use

4 corners strategy


  • As a pre-teaching strategy: Again, the four corners can be used in class as a way to determine what evidence students already have on a particular topic. This will help the teacher determine how to guide students in researching additional evidence to support their opinions.
  • As a prep for a formal debate: Use the four corners strategy as a pre-debate activity. where students begin research to develop arguments they can deliver orally or in an argumentative paper. 
  • Use sticky notes: As a twist on this strategy, rather than use a note taker, give all students a sticky note for them to record their opinion. When they move to the corner of the room that best represents their individual opinion, each student can place the post-it note on the poster. This records how the students voted for future discussion.
  • As a post-teaching strategy: Keep the notetaker's note (or sticky note) and posters. After teaching a topic, re-read the statement. Have students move to the corner that best represents their opinion after they have more information. Have them self reflect on the following questions:
    • Have they changed opinions? Why or Why not?
    • What convinced or them to change? or
    • Why didn't they change? 
    • What new questions do they have?
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Your Citation
Bennett, Colette. "Engage Students With a Four Corners Debate." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/informal-debate-4-corners-strategy-8040. Bennett, Colette. (2020, August 28). Engage Students With a Four Corners Debate. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/informal-debate-4-corners-strategy-8040 Bennett, Colette. "Engage Students With a Four Corners Debate." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/informal-debate-4-corners-strategy-8040 (accessed June 5, 2023).