The Four Corners activity has been around for quite some time, typically as an activity used with students to foster decision-making and opinion-generating skills, as well as communication and collaboration. Since my coaching philosophy rests on the idea that my design for teacher learning should align with the ultimate vision for student learning in the classroom, I like to engage teachers in activities that can immediately try with their own students. This activity is one of them and I've re-imagined it just a bit for virtual coaching.

Here's how it works if you are coaching in-person:

First, label each corner of the room you are in for a professional learning session with related statements, rating scales, topics, concepts, images or tasks. These labels should connect to your topic of the session and help teachers think more deeply about their practices. Here are a few possible ideas:

When exploring a new topic, such as running records:

  • Corner 1: I want to know more about how to code running records.
  • Corner 2: I want to know more about how to analyze running records.
  • Corner 3: I want to know more about how to manage my classroom so I can complete running records.
  • Corner 4: I want to know more about why this is important to my classroom.

When learning a new instructional practice, such as strategy grouping: 

  • Corner 1: An image of a small group table (representing management of small groups).
  • Corner 2: An image of a strategy group lesson plan (representing instructional planning).
  • Corner 3: An image of teachers conferring with students (representing conferring and conferencing).
  • Corner 4: An image of students’ working independently (representing student independence and accountability).

When trying something new, such as leveling books:

  • Corner 1: A stack of level A - D books to level with guiding directions.
  • Corner 2: A stack of level E - H books to level with guiding directions.
  • Corner 3: A stack of level I - M books to level with guiding directions.
  • Corner 4: A stack of level N - R books to level with guiding directions.

Begin your session with a review the statements, ideas or pictures posted at each corner of the room and invite teachers to move to the corner that best suits their needs or reflects their thinking. Once assembled in these new groups, teachers reflect on the statements or images or engage in the requested task.  You could even add more detailed guiding questions and/or directions for each corner to facilitate teacher interaction. Together, teachers talk, collaborate, question and brainstorm, ultimately sharing their thinking and learning on posted chart paper. You might even stock the corners with related articles, materials or resources to spark their thinking and conversation.

When the groups have finished, they begin to wander. Arm teachers with a pack of sticky notes and encourage them to browse the gallery of thinking and any completed projects. Encourage teachers to add their own thinking, ideas, questions or solutions to the charts with their sticky notes.

Once they have visited all four corners, invite teachers to return to their original corner and discuss their learning with their colleagues. How did their gallery walk help them think differently about their own content? What did they learn from their colleagues that could support their own group’s thinking?

Finally, each of the four corners shares a quick summary of their learning with the rest of the group to discuss and reflect. As a coach, you can use these conversations and the artifacts of learning from each of the corners to support your planning for upcoming professional learning sessions and your individual classroom coaching.

But, what if you are not learning in person and instead, are teaming with teachers virtually? This same activity can easily (well, pretty easily =) be done with breakout rooms and pieces of digital chart paper.

The purpose and process of creating the activity stays the same, but rather than use the corners of the room, you're going to create four breakout rooms instead. And rather than label each corner with statements, rating scales, topics, concepts, images or tasks, you're going to label shared presentation slides instead.

Instead of physically moving to the corner that best suits their needs or reflects their thinking, teachers will choose a particular breakout room instead. And while they're there, they'll document their thinking on a shared Google Doc or my favorite, Google Jamboard. Jamboard is a collaborative, digital whiteboard to create and collaborate in real time. It’s basically a digital version of a large pad of chart paper that allows us to use colorful markers and sticky notes online.

Then, when it's time to share, encourage teachers to browse the completed Jamboard, scrolling through the pages created by their colleagues. Just as in person, they can add sticky notes and text boxes of thinking to add to the conversation. And when it's time to share, bring teachers back to the main room and invite them to give a one-minute summary of their learning while you project their page on the screen, easily archiving teacher learning in digital form.

What ideas do you have for your next four corners (or breakout rooms) activity? Share your ideas below!

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  1. Hi there! Recently, I have been struggling with how to differentiate professional development for my teachers. I have a beautiful mix of brand new teachers, out of field teachers, experienced teachers, and second/third year teachers, and they all need something different. During these times, I am not wanting to add things to my teachers' plates, and it is my goal to always respect their time. But as the instructional coach, it is one of my job responsibilites to provide school wide professional development. Using 4 breakout rooms, would allow for differentiation on needs and wants, but also collaboration. Can't wait to try this out!

  2. I'm so glad to hear this! Let me know how it goes!


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