4-Corner Debate

Blog #5

This activity is a variation on a traditional 1:1 debate that will help students to collaborate, discuss and develop communication skills. 🦜

I’ve been looking outside of nursing lately for ideas on how to improve my classroom.  There is an idea in marketing that it takes seven encounters with a company before someone is ready to buy.  These encounters should be in different formats - print, visual, audio, social.  I believe that the same idea is true for students learning new material.  They need it to be presented with new content SEVEN times before they can learn new information.  The textbook is one way.  Lecture could be another.  Study groups will help.  Active learning is the one that excites me the most. 

The four corners debate is not a competition but instead an exercise in openness and communication.  Having a broad world-view and an open, understanding mind is an essential skill as a nurse working with diverse patient populations.  Students must understand that they can have personal opinions but that as nurses, they must respect the “inherent dignity, worth, attributes and human rights of all individuals” (ANA Code of Ethics).

How To:

Give the students a controversial topic or statement.  Here are few examples:

  • Marijuana should be legalized

  • Convicted inmates should receive healthcare

  • Vaccines should be mandated for COVID-19 when available

  • Physician assisted suicide should be legal for those with a terminal illness

In my theory course, for the learning plan on pain, we talk about the current opioid epidemic in our country.  We discuss caring for patients who overdose and it brings up some strong opinions from students.  I give them the statement “Narcan should be available over the counter.”

Next, designate each of the 4 corners of the room with Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree.  Have students move to the corner that matches their opinion on the statement.  Once grouped, they will work together on presenting their position.  It can be helpful to give them a goal such a write your 3 best arguments as bullet points.  

Finally, have each group present their arguments.  When the presentations are done, allow students to change their opinions if they feel differently after hearing from the other groups.  

***This activity can become emotionally charged depending on the topic so be clear on the expectations of respect and kindness before starting.  


Debates can be done in a variety of ways.  Think-pair-share works as a debate format.  Another format is the problem-solving debate where students are given a technique to use to solve a problem (think different methods to interpret ABGs) and must solve a problem and present their assigned technique and all of its merits to their small group or class.  

If doing this activity virtually, assign 4 breakout rooms as the 4 "corners" or choices.  Students should enter the breakout room that they feel best fits their opinion and create their argument via web conference.

Best for:

Controversial topics.  The idea for a debate is to discuss different viewpoints and listen to other opinions.  A straightforward topic, such as priority assessment findings in fluid overload, would not have difference of opinion and will not work with the 4 corner debate.

Ready to share your idea?


Share the content area and any variations that you did that made it awesome!

Everyone has a bad performance once in a while

I had a tough lecture this week.  It was virtual, my breakout rooms did not work, it was weird talking to a computer screen.  But life does not always go as planned - there is a Disney movie called "Mars Needs Moms" which is the worst performing in history with an estimated 130 million in losses.  I should check if it is on Disney+ . . .