April 2018
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TD Magazine

Four Corners

Monday, April 2, 2018

The situation

In a full-day (or longer) classroom training, breakout groups enable participants to apply what they've learned immediately, creating a learner-centered classroom and allowing space for discovery. Getting them into those groups can sometimes cause a hiccup to the flow of your learning program.

The trick

Although it may seem easy to sort people into breakout groups based on trivial factors, such as seat assignment or counting off, this leaves the question of whether you form groups that work well together entirely up to chance—and you'll miss out on a vital opportunity to learn more about your participants.


For a more creative approach, try the Four Corners sorting technique:

  1. Prepare your learners to separate into groups by establishing the four corners of your classroom. Even if you're working in an open area, you can still do this by pointing out specific landmarks, such as a whiteboard or water cooler.
  2. Ask your audience a question with four possible answers that help inform your facilitation style throughout the remainder of the course. For example, you might ask at what time of day your learners peak (morning, midday, afternoon, evening). You also can use this sorting technique to group by the industries in which participants work or which of your learning objectives they find most interesting.
  3. Request that participants move into a specific corner based on their response, then use those groups for your breakout activities.

    Try to remember the patterns you observe when using this technique because they may help you later. For example, if you sort learners based on how their energy fluctuates throughout the day, you may call on morning people in the afternoon or evening people in the morning to keep them focused. Likewise, if you ask your class which learning objectives they're most interested in and everyone moves into just one or two corners, you may spend any extra time on that content.

    You can spice up Four Corners with fun variations. No matter how you set up the exercise, you still get people on their feet and talking.

    Pro tip

    You can spice up Four Corners with fun variations. No matter how you set up the exercise, you still get people on their feet and talking.

About the Author

Carrie Addington is the senior manager of learning experience and facilitator development at ATD and facilitates a variety of ATD Education programs. She is a talent development leader, facilitator, and people development coach with more than 12 years of experience in facilitating large-scale training and developing outcome-based learning experiences that aim to inform, involve, inspire, and impact. Carrie is passionate about using her love of language and the arts to work with individuals on establishing deeper connections with their daily work. Carrie has worked with a wide variety of business segments, including retail, beauty, education, and nonprofits, and has worked with C-level executives, directors, managers, and high potentials.

Carrie has delivered on topics ranging from energetic accountability, leadership, and great feedback to cross-generational communication, resolving conflict, and facilitation skills. She is a part of the coaching network with the prominent, global executive leadership and management company, the Mind Gym, and is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. As a certified ATD Master Trainer and ATD Master Instructional Designer, Carrie is knowledgeable about both the development and delivery of outcome-based learning programs.

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