Brief DescriptionThis debate strategy gets kids thinking and moving. Debate topics for all grades are included.
- listen to a statement on a controversial topic and decide if they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement.
- work in groups to record information in support of their position.
- reconsider their stance in light of new information.
- write a concise paragraph expressing their opinion about the statement.
Keywordsdebate, four corner, agree, disagree, persuasive, point of view, summarize, writing, strategy
- four posters, each labeled in large letters with one of the following: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree
- a teacher-generated list of statements for discussion (provided)
- writing paper and pencils
This simple and active strategy helps students focus their thinking about topics of debate as they prepare to write a well-supported paragraph stating their position.
Before the Lesson
Create four posters/signs printed in large letters with the following labels, one label per sign:
- Strongly Agree
- Strongly Disagree
Present to students a statement that takes a stand on an issue of interest to students or of importance to the world.
Education World has collected a handful of Web sites that make good sources of timely, high-interest debate topics in the classroom.
- The New York Times - An exhaustive list of topical issues for debate and persuasive writing.
- IDEA Debatabase - This database/search engine links students to resources for debates on issues related to culture, the environment and animal welfare, science and technology, sports, and more.
- Intelligence Squared Debates US - A debate series that provides opposing viewpoints on an array of contentious policy and cultural issues.
- Ideas for Debate Topics - A list of debate topics geared towards younger students. Topics include: "Should your class be permitted to go on a field trip this year?" and "Should you be permitted to have or attend a sleep-over party?"
For this lesson, you might use one of the following statements as the starting point for a classroom discussion. Some of the statements are not appropriate discussion starters for elementary level students; select an appropriate statement that will engage your students. As an alternative, you might choose to make a statement about a controversy in the news or about an issue of interest to people in your area.
- Students should wear uniforms to school.
- Kids should be able to have TVs in their bedrooms.
- Beauty is only skin deep.
- Wearing a helmet when riding a bike should be mandatory.
- The Pledge of Allegiance should be recited in school each day.
- Because many kids need more sleep, school should start two hours later than it does now.
- Chewing gum should be banned from schools.
- Scientists should be allowed to use animals to test new medicines.
- Kids should be able to spend their allowance any way they want to.
- Kids younger than 18 should be able to make their own decisions about whether to get a body piercing.
Select a statement appropriate for your students, read aloud the statement, and give students 5 minutes to collect their thoughts about the topic. Then ask students if they
- strongly agree,
- disagree, or
- strongly disagree
Hopefully, you have four groups gathered in different corners of the classroom. Appoint one student in each corner to be the note taker, and give students 5-10 minutes to discuss with the other students in their corner the reasons they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree.
At the end of the discussion period, ask one student from each group to share with the class some of the ideas they discussed in their group.
Perhaps one of the four groups made such a strong case that some students have changed their minds about their reaction to the statement. If that is the case, at this point in the activity give students an opportunity to change corners.
Provide 5-10 more minutes for students to continue their group discussions. At this point, every student in the group should be taking notes. At the end of the discussion time, each student uses those notes to write a concise paragraph stating his or her position on the issue. (for example, I strongly agree with the statement [statement goes here] because) Students should include in their paragraphs the four strongest points supporting their position.
- Have students come up with their own discussion topics.
- Over a couple class periods, use the four corner strategy to discuss three or four different statements. Then have students write a position paper on the statement they have the strongest feelings about.
- Provide time for students to read aloud their papers. Then provide time for peer reaction. First, ask students to share only positive comments about their classmates' papers; then provide time for students to share only constructive criticism. ("You might have done this differently")
Student paragraphs follow the proper form and include at least four solid reasons supporting their position on the topic of discussion.
Lesson Plan Source
Find more Debate Resources or click to return to this week's Lesson Planning article, It's Up for Debate!
Last updated 01/20/2017
Another idea in our Skills and Strategies series, the Four-Corners technique can be used by any teacher on any level with any material — it’s all in how you craft it.
Below, you’ll find a description of the strategy and several suggestions for putting it together with Times content.
Have you tried Four Corners, or something like it? How did it go? Let us know in the comments.
The Four-Corners Strategy
One take on the Four Corners technique, from The Teaching Channel
In Four Corners, students move around the room to show their level of agreement or disagreement with a statement or statements on a particular issue. Each corner is labeled with one of four signs — Strongly Agree; Agree; Disagree; Strongly Disagree. As the teacher reads a series of statements about the issue, students move to one of the four corners to show their point of view.
The strategy ensures that all students participate, and it gets a lesson “on its feet,” which can be especially helpful for kinesthetic learners. It can be used as a warm-up — a kind of “anticipation guide” to the ideas they’ll be studying — or as a culminating activity. Teachers might also use the strategy at both the beginning and the end of a unit to see how students’ opinions change after they learn more.
Another way to organize it? Instead of using the four corners of a classroom, make an imaginary line across the room. Make one end “strongly agree,” the opposite end “strongly disagree” and the middle “no opinion.” Every other position on the line shows degrees of agreement or disagreement, depending on how closely a student positions him or herself to the two extremes at the ends. (Facing History and Ourselves calls this the “barometer activity” and explains other nuances here.)
If you choose to pose a series of statements to the class, you might start out with sentences that are more general and perhaps less controversial, then get to more specific or more complex statements as you move on.
Give students time to think after you read each one, but ask them to move in silence at first. Discussion is saved for later. The last statement might be the most provocative, or the one that gets most closely to the issue with which you would like for them to wrestle. For example, a series of statements about climate change might begin with a sentence like “Climate is different from weather” and end with something like “Climate change is a hoax.”
Once students are in their chosen corners in reaction to the final statement, each group can discuss its point of view, and select a representative who will speak on behalf of the whole group. Then all four corners might take turns stating their cases. If you are doing this after students have read a text, you might ask that each group supply evidence from it to support the students’ thoughts.
The teacher might then read the final statement again and see if, as a result of discussion, any students have changed their minds. If so, they should move to a new corner.
To take this activity further, you might have students do the exercise in the role of a character or a historical figure or a member of a different demographic. For instance, in the climate change example, students might be assigned the roles of particular political figures, scientists or other stakeholders who might have nuanced thoughts on the topic.
Below, we show how Four Corners might work with issues covered in The Times.
Four Corners and The Times
Four Corners can be used with content in any subject area and at any level you teach. We at the Learning Network have used it in lesson plans on:
But you don’t have to rely on what we have done, of course. Here’s how to do it yourself if you’re interested in bringing current events and debates into your classroom this way.
How to Create Four Corners Statements From Room for Debate or Student Opinion Pieces
To quickly find Times materials that work well, you might look through our Student Opinion posts, or our 301 Prompts for Argumentative Writing collection. Each question links to a free Times article on that topic, and you can easily adapt our questions into statements or add your own.
Another fruitful source: the Room for Debate forum, in which experts weigh in on different current events topics.
For instance, the question Do We Need to Change the Way We Raise Boys? would almost certainly create impassioned debate in most classrooms. In the Room for Debate post, five people discuss the question, bringing up a wide variety of points about gender and identity, culture, biology and parenting.
A teacher wishing to use this topic could tweak statements from each of the debaters and quickly create a Four Corners activity. A few examples might be:
- We are living in confusing times in terms of gender identity.
- If someone told me or a boy I knew to “be a man,” I would know what they meant.
- From rap lyrics to video games, there is a great deal of misogyny in today’s popular culture.
- Boys face contempt if they like “girlie” things.
- The concept of “a real man” is a negative one today.
From here, there are many places to go. After they read the full Room for Debate post, they might write their own pieces; interview others for a survey; or do any of these ideas in our lesson plan, Constructing Arguments: ‘Room for Debate’ and the Common Core Standards, or in this Reader Idea, Using Room for Debate to Teach Argumentative Writing and Discussion Skills.
Another example? We have noticed on our blog that the Student Opinion questions that consistently elicit the most comments concern students’ use of technology and social media and the nuances of their lives online. There are many, many Times articles and Student Opinion questions on this broad topic, but here is an example of how to use a recent one, “Addicted to Distraction,” paired with one of our most popular Student Opinion questions, “Does Technology Make Us More Alone?”
Here are just a few examples of statements that might be derived from these two readings:
- Technology is getting in the way of our ability to communicate face to face.
- Smartphones will continue to intrude more into our private and social spaces as time goes on.
- Documenting experiences and putting them on social media takes away from living in the moment.
- Technology has shortened people’s attention spans.
- Reality is often less interesting than what’s on the Internet.
- Social media can be dangerous.
- Teenagers spend too much time on screens.
Have your class do the Four Corners exercise before they read more on the topic since, like the gender example above, they will certainly already have opinions. Afterward, have students sit down and quickly freewrite or journal their reactions to the exercise, and list some of the points that came up about which they had strong reactions.
This might then lead to a formal piece of writing — one which, perhaps, they would like to send in for our annual Student Editorial Contest (coming in Feb. 2016). Or, like any rich subject, could lead to students developing their own inquiry questions for further research.
Sensitive Topics and the Four Corners Exercise
Though some of the most hotly debated topics on social media might also make for rich Four Corner exercises, because the strategy demands that students publicly take a stand, teachers should be very careful in choosing topics and crafting statements.
As a Times tech columnist, Farhad Manjoo, wrote this week in “The Internet’s Loop of Action and Reaction Is Worsening“:
If you’ve logged on to Twitter and Facebook in the waning weeks of 2015, you’ve surely noticed that the Internet now seems to be on constant boil. Your social feed has always been loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly, but this year everything has been turned up to 11. The Islamic State’s use of the Internet is perhaps only the most dangerous manifestation of what, this year, became an inescapable fact of online life: The extremists of all stripes are ascendant, and just about everywhere you look, much of the Internet is terrible.
Though you may be talking about, say, the 2016 election, gun control, race and policing or any of the other important issues that were in the news in 2015 and that many teachers want to connect to curriculum, there are ways to make sure the exercise promotes, as Mr. Manjoo writes, “nuance, complexity, or flirting with the middle ground” rather than outrage.
For example, if you look at the sample statements we posed for the pieces about gender and technology, above, you will see that none of them are personal. Instead of a statement reading, “I spend too much time on screens,” we posed it as, “People spend too much time on screens.” Of course, each teacher knows what is appropriate for his or her class, and in some contexts, like an advisory group, personal statements might be the more fertile way to go. It is often easier, however, for students to take a stance that is more about society as a whole than directly about him or herself.
You might also take the statements you will use for Four Corners and hand them out first on paper, asking each student to anonymously rate their reactions to each. Collect the sheets and tally them, then let the class know the results. At the end of the unit, you might then ask students to react to the same statements in a public, Four Corners exercise since by then they will have read and discussed the topic more deeply and may be more comfortable expressing their opinions this way. (Make sure you save the original tally for each statement so you can show them how their opinions have changed — or haven’t.)
Our series Drama Strategies to Use With Any Day’s Times
This resource may be used to address the academic standards listed below.
Common Core E.L.A. Anchor Standards
Speaking and Listening
1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Teaching Ideas Based on New York Times Content.