Four Corners

Get Them Out of Their Seats
General Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History, Rhetoric
Large Group, Ongoing, Cumulative, Out of Seat


  • Students will develop stronger opinions and arguments about the novel.
  • Students will create a more personal connection to the issues and themes of the novel.


A four-corners debate requires students to show their position on a specific statement (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) by standing in a particular corner of the room (signs will be posted) or by responding to four choices to one question. This activity gets everyone involved and requires full participation by taking a position.

This activity can be done as a cumulative exercise (for a section of reading or for the entire novel) or used as a priming activity prior to reading a new section of the book.

Materials Needed/Preparation


  • Label the four corners of the room with signs reading “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree,” “strongly disagree.”
  • Generate a list of statements related to the material being studied. These should not be “yes” or “no” statements, but ones that will elicit strong feelings/opinions. Statements most likely to encourage discussions typically do not have one correct or obvious answer. (See sample statements below.)
  • ~When generating statements, consider the objectives.
  • ~~Is this a cumulative activity, or an activity meant to prime students for upcoming scenes in the novel?
  • ~Statements do not have to be pulled directly from the novel. Statements could be about the larger issues covered in the novel (trust, violence, etc.), issues that students may be able to relate to on a personal level.

Materials Needed

  • List of statements related to the material being studied (see above)
  • Overhead projector (optional)
  • Copies of prepared statements to distribute (optional)

Estimated Time

1 class period


  • Distribute statements (optional).
  • Read the first statement to the class. (Consider using an overhead projector as well.
  • ~Allow students a few minutes to respond to the statement in writing, explaining their stance (no simple “yes” or “no” answers).
  • ~Have students move to the corner of the room that best represents their opinion.
  • ~Once students are in their places, ask for volunteers to explain their opinions/read their responses. When they do, they should refer specifically to The Red Pony and other information from their own experiences. Encourage students to switch corners if they hear an idea that persuades them to change their opinion.
  • ~After a representative from each corner has defended his or her opinion, students can question each other’s evidence and ideas. It is especially interesting to hear from students who have changed their minds and moved to a new corner.
  • Move on to the next statement, and repeat the above process.

Another alternative is to use each corner as a response to a question. For example:

  • Who is the most important character in The Red Pony? (For example, the corner signs might indicate Billy Buck, Jody, Carl Tiflin, and Gabilan.)
  • ~This can also be broken down by individual story.
  • Which character (of four choices) moves the plot in The Red Pony the most efficiently?
  • Which character trait (of four choices) is on display most in the novel?
  • Who is the saddest character in The Red Pony?
  • Who is the most positive character in The Red Pony?
  • Who is the most naïve character in The Red Pony?

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Journal or writing assignments based on the statements given for the Four Corners activity.
  • Have students further analyze the statements from Four Corners.  
  • Have students relate an experience from their own lives to the issues discussed in Four Corners.


  • Students should come away with arguments and opinions about the novel that will assist them in a cumulative project, essay, or exam.
  • Students should relate in a personal way to the issues discussed.


  • If Four Corners is done prior to finishing the novel, consider posing the same or similar statements for another session of Four Corners after completing the novel. Has finishing the novel changed opinions?


  • Participation is the key in this activity; students should be earning points for participation.
  • Assign and grade a follow-up journal/writing assignment based on the statements used in Four Corners. Assess student understanding based on how well they support their responses using the text.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 1
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 9
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 4
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 6

Additional Information

Sample Statements to Use for The Red Pony:

  • Jody was right to blame Billy Buck for the death of Gabilan.
  • Billy Buck was a better father figure to Jody than Carl Tiflin.
  • Jody is a cruel boy.
  • Jody is a responsible (or irresponsible) boy.
  • Where do you think Gitano should have gone to die?
  • ~To the old rancho (as he did in the novel).
  • ~To his family in Monterey (remember, that’s not very far from Salinas).
  • ~Nowhere; he should have stayed where he had been living.
  • ~To Mexico (he most likely had relatives there as well).
  • In “The Great Mountains” Steinbeck writes: “Carl Tiflin didn’t like to be cruel…” (Steinbeck 46). Do you agree with this statement?
  • ~This statement can work with other stories, not just “The Great Mountains.”
  • In “The Promise,” Jody does not trust Billy Buck as much as he did in “The Gift.” He even questions Billy Buck, saying “You won’t let anything happen, Billy, you’re sure you won’t?” (Steinbeck 75). Is Jody right to distrust Billy and to question him?
  • Billy Buck was right to kill Nellie to save the colt.
  • By the end of “The Leader of the People,” Jody is much more mature.
  • The way Carl Tiflin treated Grandfather was wrong.
  • The Red Pony is a sad, depressing book.
  • ~This is a very open-ended statement. The hope is to get students to truly deconstruct how they feel about the novel as a whole.

Related Lesson Plans for this Work