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Compass Points

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you implement Compass Points in your classroom.

Compass Points offers you a valuable tool to enhance your teaching practices by guiding your students through the process of critical thinking and decision-making. Originating from a focus on effective decision-making, this routine diverges from the traditional Pros and Cons List approach. Rather than merely assessing the positives and negatives of a proposal, Compass Points encourages your students to delve deeper into their thoughts and emotions. They begin by identifying what excites them about the idea and what concerns them. This novel starting point helps individuals form a well-rounded perspective before moving forward. By acknowledging that the decision-making process involves more than just the end result, Compass Points fosters a comprehensive exploration of options.

This thinking routine brings considerable benefits to educators and learners alike. It enables groups to approach an idea from diverse angles, promoting a holistic understanding of the topic. This approach discourages hasty judgments driven by personal biases or excitement. The routine cultivates a balanced viewpoint by urging individuals to not only focus on the thrilling aspects but also consider potential worries. This balanced thinking serves as a foundation for the subsequent steps. In addition to its primary purpose of decision-making, teachers have discovered versatile applications of the routine across various learning scenarios. By encouraging multiple perspectives and identifying areas needing more information, Compass Points effectively nurtures critical thinking and informed analysis.

The Compass Points routine unfolds through several key steps. The process begins by asking individuals to pinpoint aspects of the proposal that excite them and those that raise concerns. This initial exploration sets the stage for a more comprehensive evaluation. The following step involves identifying areas requiring further investigation or information. This "needs" phase encourages students to acknowledge gaps in their understanding, fostering a commitment to informed decision-making. Notably, the routine emphasises the importance of balanced thinking and encourages learners to refrain from rushing into judgments.

One of the most intricate phases of Compass Points is working out "what you need to know." This step underscores the reflective nature of critical thinking. It necessitates a deep assessment of existing knowledge, an analysis of potential gaps, and the formulation of precise questions to address these gaps. Often, providing ample time for contemplation before moving to the final phase, which involves identifying "Stances, Steps, or Suggestions," proves advantageous. This concluding stage prompts students to outline actionable strategies or suggestions for moving forward. Overall, Compass Points not only enriches decision-making but also serves as a catalyst for cultivating reflective thinkers equipped to approach complex issues with a balanced and analytical mindset.

Planning the process

When planning a lesson to use Compass Points in the classroom, there are two important steps you should consider to ensure its effectiveness:

Step 1

Selection of dilemmas or dissent

Compass Points is a strategy that works effectively when the topic, idea, or proposition being discussed is one that involves dilemmas or differing points of view. It's particularly valuable when there is disagreement or when individuals are emotionally attached to their perspectives, making it challenging for them to think about the idea more broadly. As you plan your lesson, ensure that the chosen proposition or topic has inherent complexities or differing viewpoints that can stimulate meaningful discussion. This will encourage students to engage actively in the process and explore multiple dimensions of the issue.

Step 2

Clear framing of the position

Since Compass Points focuses on exploring a proposition rather than engaging in a full-fledged debate, it's crucial that the position you want your students to consider is well framed. Make sure the issue or event in question is clearly defined and understood by your students. The success of the activity hinges on the clarity of the starting point. For instance, if you're exploring the idea of "Elimination of the dress code," ensure that your students have a common understanding of what the dress code entails and what implications its elimination might have. This clear framing allows your students to engage in meaningful discussions and evaluations without getting lost in misunderstandings or vagueness.

Performing the process

You can conduct Compass Points over the course of two to three class periods, approximately 35 to 45 minutes each.

Step 1

Introduction and set up

Begin by explaining to your students that you'll be using the Compass Points activity to explore a specific idea, question, or proposition. Provide context and any necessary background information to ensure they have a basic understanding of the topic. If the topic is new or complex, encourage students to ask questions for clarification. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page before proceeding. Place four large sheets of paper on the classroom walls, each labelled with one of the letters "E," "W," "N," and "S" to represent the Compass Points. Alternatively, you can write the proposition on the whiteboard and draw the compass points around it. Distribute sticky notes to students for writing down their thoughts.

Step 2

Identify excitements

Ask students, "What excites you about this idea or proposition? What's the upside?" Encourage them to think about positive aspects and potential benefits. Give students time to think, write down their thoughts, and post their ideas on the E chart or section. If students are struggling, you can rephrase the question as, "What might people be excited about?" Encourage a range of positive aspects related to the topic. Have students post their sticky notes on the "E" chart or section. This can be a silent activity to allow for diverse responses without judgement.

Step 3

Identify worries

Ask students, "What worries would you have about this? What are your concerns? What's the downside?" Encourage them to consider potential drawbacks or challenges. Give students time to reflect and write down their worries on sticky notes. Once students are ready, have them post their worries on the W chart. This step allows them to consider potential challenges or drawbacks related to the topic.

Step 4

Identify needs

Prompt your students to think about what additional information they need to better understand the issue or event. Ask students, "What do you need to know and gather more information about to help you better understand this issue or prepare for this event?" Allow students to think about what information gaps they have and record their thoughts on sticky notes. Have students post their sticky notes on the "N" chart or section. This step encourages students to recognize gaps in their knowledge and stimulates curiosity.

Step 5

Stances, steps, or suggestions

Depending on the nature of the topic, ask students to take a stance on the proposition, suggest next steps for actions, or provide suggestions for improving the situation. Give students time to consider their stance, steps, or suggestions and write them down on sticky notes. Have students post their sticky notes on the "S" chart or section. Encourage them to think critically and offer constructive ideas.

Step 6

Share the thinking

Invite students to review the comments made by others on each chart. This can be done after each step or at the end of the activity. By sharing the thoughts, learners become aware of the group's collective ideas. Discuss common themes and emerging patterns. Highlight any similarities or differences in responses across the different categories.Encourage them to notice commonalities and patterns among responses. Discuss themes that emerged within each category (Excitements, Worries, Needs, Stances/Steps/Suggestions). Pay special attention to the "suggestions for moving forward" responses. Engage students in a discussion about which suggestions are feasible and beneficial. Develop a plan to put some of these suggestions into action.

Step 7

Assessing student learning

Throughout the activity, observe how students engage with each compass point. Are they able to generate multiple excitements, worries, needs, and stances/suggestions? Pay attention to their ability to consider various aspects of the topic and move beyond initial reactions. Notice if they can identify gaps in their understanding and articulate what information they need. Additionally, assess the quality of their suggestions for moving forward and their engagement in group discussions.

Improving the process

While the Compass Points routine encourages open and honest sharing of thoughts and opinions, it's crucial to foster a respectful and inclusive environment. Remind your students that all viewpoints are valuable and that the activity is meant to promote thoughtful discussion rather than debate. Emphasise the importance of active listening and constructive feedback. Be vigilant in preventing any negative or dismissive comments that could discourage students from expressing themselves fully.

Be mindful of the diversity of your classroom. Different students may approach the activity with varying levels of comfort and familiarity in expressing their thoughts. Some may be more introverted and hesitant to share, while others might dominate the conversation. Encourage quiet students to participate and ensure that more outspoken students allow everyone to contribute. You might consider implementing techniques like think-pair-share to give students a chance to gather their thoughts before discussing with the larger group.

Compass Points can be done individually as well. While this provides students with the opportunity for personal reflection, be cautious that the individual process doesn't completely replace the collaborative aspect. Balance is key. Encourage students to come together after their individual reflections to share their insights and learn from each other's perspectives. This will help you to maintain the richness of group discussions and the potential for building on one another's ideas.


This modified version of the Compass Points, inspired by Project Zero's Thinking Routines Toolbox, is the result of our application of it within Indian classrooms. We want to express our gratitude to the researchers responsible for developing Project Zero's Thinking Routines Toolbox and making it available for the global teaching community.

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