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The Four Corners Strategy- A Verbal, Active Method to Check for Understanding

by Model Teaching | May 11, 2022.

The Four Corners Strategy is a simple verbal strategy to help engage your students and improve discussion and discourse. In Four Corners, a question is presented to the class, and students are given time to think about their responses. Students will respond to the question by standing in a designated spot of the room that represents their answer choice. Typically, you allow for each corner of the four corners of your classroom to convey an answer choice. After posing your question, students will reflect on their answer and then move to their designated corner of the room. The Four Corners Strategy is a wonderful way to encourage debate and discourse in the classroom while also visualizing students’ differences in ideas. By posing questions that elicit a more open-ended response, you can encourage students to think more critically about the question and their answer and prompt them to justify their choice.

The Four Corners Teaching Strategy

To Implement the Four Corners Strategy in your classroom:

  1. Prepare a question with four possible correct answer choices that align with the lesson content or the goal of the check for understanding activity. Attempt to design your questions so that they can elicit an open-ended response, and where more than one answer choice could be correct, depending on the justification and rationale provided by the student.
  2. Display the question on the projector screen or read the question aloud.
  3. Inform students of four locations in the classroom, one that represents each answer choice. Students should move to the location in the room that represents their choice.
  4. Encourage 100% participation and remind students to make their own choice and not be dependent on what other students choose.
  5. Choose at least one student from each answer choice to defend their answer verbally, or allow groups to discuss the reason for their choice.
  6. When possible, encourage additional discourse and debate between groups to help deepen understanding of the concept.

Closed Responses

Closed responses could be used for Four Corners when the teacher offers questions with only one correct answer; however, this approach is typically not utilized for Four Corners.

A better option for closed responses would be the Student Response System.

Nevertheless, if you choose to implement closed responses within the Four Corners Strategy, this is what it could look like:

A third-grade math teacher displays a polygon with the length of each side labeled and asks students to determine the perimeter. She gives four answer choices, and students stand in the corner representing the letter of their choice.

Assessment: She can use a data tracker to quickly mark if students miss an answer to determine their overall accuracy rate after all of the questions have been answered. However, you are not likely to get accurate data from a closed question because if a student chooses a wrong answer and sees that most students are standing at another answer choice, they could be more likely to follow their peers to that response.


Open Responses

Open responses are the typical response format for Four Corners, assuming the question posed could be answered correctly by any or most of the four choices given. The teacher can then tally student responses and require students from each side of the argument to justify their responses with evidence or rules related to the day’s content.

Example: A teacher displays the following numbers and asks students to stand in the corner of the number that does not belong.

9 16 25 43

In this particular set of sequences, students will need to figure out how those numbers are related- and there could be more than one response. For example, one student might say that 16 does not belong because the other numbers are all odd. Another student, however, might say that 43 does not belong because the other numbers could be reduced by its square root. This process allowed for the teacher to support students in practicing math analysis in varied ways and review important concepts necessary for deeper critical thinking.

Assessment: After students make their answer choice, the teacher can have them complete an exit ticket explaining their reasoning for their choice or engage in a group discussion. She can then sort the students into two groups based on their exit tickets: able to defend adequately and not able to defend.

The Four Corners Strategy can also be important in project-based activities, activities where analysis is important, or when you must practice justifying a response.

Consider a science class that has completed a lab activity and has drawn conclusions. Depending on how students structured their experiments, different groups could come to different conclusions that they can defend using data from their experiments.

Consider analyzing a piece of poetry, a complex short story, or chapter. If the analysis is complex, or if the question posed could elicit more than one response, students will be able to separate into two or more corners of the room and then prompt a deeper discussion and debate on both sides of the argument. For example: “Do you think the character was justified in her behavior towards her father?”

In art, the teacher could display the names of four famous artists and ask students to select the most important artist for a specific genre, prompting students to lead a debate on their preferred artists and rationale for their importance in the art world.


Best Used When

This strategy is most effective when students need to demonstrate their reasoning or justification skills. It works best when the four answer choices could be considered correct, depending on how you analyze the question. It allows students to work on their communication skills and helps them see different viewpoints they may not have considered before.

Although the Four Corners Strategy is not explicitly necessary for these kinds of justification activities, it provides a new way for students to interact with the content and helps to engage them in a more authentic discussion. It can be included as part of your varied methods to check for understanding in your classroom and added as an additional valuable activity for your course.

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Answer Justification Worksheet-Icon

Answer Justification Worksheet

This worksheet can be used alongside your Four Corners Strategy to ensure that students have fully thought about their selected answer and are prepared to engage in debate with their peers.

  • TRY THIS

Refer to the provided student reflection document found above. Prepare an open-ended question that can be used for further discussion and analysis in your classroom. Select up to four answer choices, and then post those choices into the four corners of your room. Ask students to utilize the provided resource before moving to their corner so that you can engage in rich discussion immediately.

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