Informal Debate-4 Corners Strategy

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Why Use the 4 Corner Strategy for a Debate?

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.

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 about the Electoral College.

By asking students to apply what they have learned when framing arguments, it can be an effective 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. 

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Step 1: Select an Opinion Statement

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Select an opinion statement or controversial topic or complicated problem appropriate for your discipline and your students. A list of topics can be found on this link. 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 a proof or counter example): 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

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In each corner of the room, place one of four posters. Each poster should be labeled in large letters with one of the following:

  • Strongly Agree,

  • Agree,

  • Disagree,

  • Strongly Disagree. 

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Step 3: Read Statement and Give Time

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  1. Explain that you will be using the four corners strategy to help students prepare for an informal debate.
  2. Read the statement you have selected out loud to the class, and display the statement for everyone to see.  
  3. Give the students 3-5 minutes to 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"

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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,
  • or strongly disagree

​Students will move to the poster that 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

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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.

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Step 6: Note-taker

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  1. Appoint one student in each corner to be the notetaker. If there are a large number of students under one corner, break students into smaller groups 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 record the reasons.

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Step 7: Share Results

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  1. Have the notetakers share the reasons the members of their group gave for choosing one of opinions expressed on the poster. 
  2. List these reasons on the board or on the poster itself.
  3. Use the lists to show the variety of opinions on a topic. 

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Final Thoughts: Variations and Use of the 4 Corners Strategy

So, what new information do we need to research?. GETTY Images

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 Post-it Notes: As a twist on this strategy, rather than use a note taker, give all students a post-it 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 post its) 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?