Students develop courage by evaluating an idea or proposition and taking a stance on it.

Compass Points

Students evaluate an idea or proposition, share their opinions with other students, and take a stance on the matter.

Level: Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
Duration: ≤ 30 minutes
My Notes: Add/Edit Notes

Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • Any time of the year
  • To provide students with an opportunity to practice intellectual courage
  • When discussing an idea or proposition with students
  • To get students to move around the classroom in a productive manner


Time Required

  • ≤ 30 minutes



  • 4 poster boards
  • Post-its
  • Paper
  • Pencil/pens


Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Evaluate various sides of a proposition or idea
  • Share their personal opinions on a proposition or idea
  • Identify gaps in their knowledge that if filled can better inform a decision


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Courage
  • Reflection
  • Growth Mindset


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Social Awareness
  • Responsible Decision-Making


Mindfulness Components

  • Open Awareness
  • Non-Judgment

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • Take a moment to think of an idea you recently heard or a proposition you would like to evaluate.
  • Reflect on the following questions: What excites you about the idea or proposition? What worries you? What else do you need to know to better evaluate the idea or proposition? What are the next steps you will take in response to this idea or proposition?
  • With your answers in mind, take a stance on the idea or proposition. If time permits, you might even consider sharing your responses with a friend or colleague and hearing their responses to better inform your own stance.


  • Before the lesson, put posters around the room titled with the letters E, W, N, and S.
  • Present students with a proposition or idea. For example, you might feature a school policy proposal, a proposition for a classroom change, a dilemma that a character in a novel is trying to resolve, a policy a politician has been discussing on the news, a solution researchers have proposed for a major problem, or any other proposition relevant to your lesson, classroom, or school goals.
  • Give students post‐its and ask students to post their notes on each poster, sharing their “excitements,” “worries,” “needs,” and “stances/steps/suggestions.”
  • Explain that on the east wall, students should place a post-it that describes what excites them about the idea or proposition? What’s the upside?
  • On the west wall, they should describe what they find worrisome about the idea or proposition. What’s the downside?
  • On the north wall, they should describe what else they need to know or find out about this idea or proposition. What additional information would help them to evaluate things?
  • Finally, on the south wall, students should describe what their current stance or opinion is on the idea or proposition. How might they move forward in their evaluation of the idea or proposition?
  • Have students share their responses in small groups and have each group summarize the stance they would take. Alternatively, if time permits, have each student share one of their post-it responses for the east, west, or north wall with the entire class.
  • Then, as a class, consider the next steps to be taken in response to the proposition or idea that was posed.



  • Have students write a short reflection about the exercise. They may use the following questions:
    • What surprised you from the discussion with your classmates?
    • Did you share similar excitements or worries?
    • Was it easy for you to share your responses with other students? How did it feel to hear other students’ responses and to realize that they also had their own worries and needs for more information to better understand the idea or proposition?
    • Did your stance change after hearing others’ responses?
    • What did you learn or what is the main thing you’ll take away from the discussion?



The Compass Points thinking routine was developed by Project Zero, a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Reflection After the Practice

  • How did students respond to the exercise? What would you do the same or differently the next time?
  • How might this exercise help encourage students to be more courageous in voicing out their opinions?
  • Have you noticed a change in how students respond to new ideas or propositions?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

One study suggests that when people practice social courage by presenting new ideas and sharing concerns in a group setting, they contribute to the overall success of the group.

Furthermore, research tells us that teens show greater moral courage—a willingness to speak up in the face of injustice—when adults provide opportunities for them to voice their opinions regarding important decisions.


Why Does It Matter?

Academic courage features perseverance and risk-taking despite one’s fears or anxieties. For example, students practice academic courage when they speak up even if they are nervous about how they will be perceived by others.

For many students, asking questions or making comments in class can be challenging. This is particularly the case in adolescence, a developmental stage characterized by heightened self-consciousness and a strong desire for peer acceptance.

This practice may require more courage for some students than others. According to researchers, an action may require greater courage simply because of the way someone views a potential challenge (like speaking up in class)—along with the fear they may associate with performing that action.  When students take risks by asking questions in class or voicing their opinions, they can experience greater intellectual growth and academic success


“Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.”
–Oprah Winfrey
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