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Three A’s Plus One

 Four students putting their heads together

Four students putting their heads together (NeonShot, iStockphoto)

 Four students putting their heads together

Four students putting their heads together (NeonShot, iStockphoto)


This strategy helps students develop collaboration skills by providing a structure for focused dialogue about a text.

Why use it?

  • To aid in comprehension of content being viewed, read or listened to
  • To identify and consider different perspectives on a topic
  • To support making connections
  • To practice leading a discussion

Tips for success

  • Write the 3 categories (agree, argue, and aspire) on a whiteboard to help students remember what they should write on each card. 
  • Discuss each category with students before beginning. Ensure that they understand each category. Ask for some examples of each category. 
  • Model synthesizing and leading a discussion before beginning. Ask students “What are some things that you notice when someone is leading a discussion really well?” Record their responses and keep them visible while they are engaging in this learning strategy. 

How do I use it?

  1. Students sit in groups of four and letter off A through D. 
  2. Students read a selected piece of text.
  3. Provide each student with four index cards and ask them to record the following on individual index cards: 
    • One thing with which you agree.
    • One thing with which you might argue.
    • One thing to which you aspire.
    • The fourth card is assigned later.
  4. To begin, all group members show their agree cards in the middle of the table.
  5. A synthesizes what everyone agrees with and leads a group discussion around the values, beliefs and experiences that might have led to these agreements.
  6. Repeat the process with the argue cards with B leading the synthesis and dialogue, and then with the aspire cards with C leading the synthesis/dialogue. 
  7. To conclude, each learner then takes their fourth unassigned card and records a personal “Aha” — an insight from the reading and dialogue.
  8. Repeat the process with the “Aha” cards with D leading the synthesis and dialogue.
  9. Bring students back to a whole group discussion of their insights. 


  • In a virtual setting, use a virtual whiteboard such as Jamboard. Assign each type of prompt a different colour. Students could first type out the answer to the three prompts in a Google Doc or Word Doc and then copy them onto a sticky note at the appropriate time.
  • Consider focusing on a different category during the large group discussion each time you use this strategy. For example, the first time you could focus on the “agree” cards. Students could spend time identifying points of agreement. The next time, you could focus on the “argue” cards. This can help to focus the whole class discussion.


Adapted from: National School Reform Faculty. (n.d.). Four “A”s Text Protocol.