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Simple Think-Pair-Share Teaching Strategies

Jordan Catapano

If you’re looking for simple, tried-and-true teaching strategies for students to think and talk, then try Think-Pair-Share. This is a straightforward method for encouraging students to individually consider class content and then converse with one another about it. Here’s how these teaching strategies work.

Think: Each individual student independently thinks about his answer to a question posed by the teacher.

Pair: After thinking on her own, each student turns to one other student and briefly discusses ideas.

Share: After students all communicate their thinking to a partner, the class engages in a discussion.

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This three-step method for thinking and collaborative discussion offers many benefits to students’ classroom experience. Simply thinking, listening, and discussing can lead to benefits like these:

  • Students have time and silence to consider their own perspective on the issue.
  • Students can develop their thinking more by writing down their answer.
  • Students can share their answer in a non-threatening way with just one other peer.
  • Students can listen to another peer and compare their responses.
  • Students can practice articulating their thoughts prior to a class-wide discussion.
  • Students can enhance their understanding by being better prepared to participate in and listen to a class discussion.

Imagine class without thinking, pairing, or sharing. The activity would proceed, but many of the benefits listed above would likely not occur. This cooperative learning method takes only as much time as the teacher desires, whether a few minutes or much longer, and seamlessly facilitates a way for teachers to engage student thinking and discussion.

The traditional classroom response method is when a teacher poses a question and just one student raises a hand and answers. This method is good for that one student, but no other students have an opportunity to think through or articulate their ideas. Think-Pair-Share offers all students the opportunity to first consider a response on their own. It then gives all students a chance to practice their oral communication skills as well as gives each student a stronger sense of involvement.

Let’s look at techniques for each of these three components a little more closely.

Think

Thinking is a silent, independent activity that gives each student a chance to individually process information. Although we like to jump to discussion and writing – the parts of thinking we can see – it’s important to give students time for this individual consideration.

To help students think, give them two things: Clarity and time. For clarity, pose a clear question and indicate to students that they will first silently considering their answer. When your instructions show students exactly what they need to do, they are more likely to do it. For time, allow students up to several minutes to engage with the question, depending on the question.

Students might be encouraged to do one of these other actions to assist their thinking:

  • Write down their thoughts.
  • Look at notes or other information associated with the question.
  • Write down their own further questions.

Once students have been allowed ample time to think independently, they all should have an answer. Their answer might be wrong, incomplete, or incoherent, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that they have their own idea, which will serve as their launching pad into discussion.

Pair

Now that students have their own idea, it’s time to talk to a classmate about it. The “Pair” part of Think-Pair-Share is simply taking their thinking and verbalizing it in a way someone else can understand. It’s also about listening to someone else and comparing their partner’s idea to her own.

Try making “Pair” more meaningful with these actions:

  • Have a pre-designated partner; this makes finding a partner simple.
  • Tell students to focus not just on telling their idea, but listening to their partners.
  • Ask students to “Compare” answers, and add their partner’s idea to their own notes if they like it.
  • Walk around and listen to as many student answers as possible.

Verbalizing their thoughts to someone else is an important step for processing their ideas. But this is also called “Behavioral rehearsal time.” This means that they are getting a chance to practice sharing their idea before they are asked to share publically in class discussion. Also, as you walk around and hear what students are saying, this is a great informal formative assessment indicating to you student understanding.

Share

Finally, your class is ready to “Share” together as a whole group. This phase is optional, depending on what you want your class to do and how much time you have. Some teachers skip this step, and other teachers jump directly to this step without the thinking or pairing coming beforehand.

There are actually several different ways students could be encouraged to share. While you can simply open up discussion and ask, “Who would like to share their thoughts?” you can also have students try some of these sharing methods:

  • Students can read their notes out loud (rather than sharing a thought from memory). This might help some participants feel more comfortable or accurate in their speaking.
  • If the answer is brief, you could go around the room student-by-student to get their ideas.
  • Students don’t have to share their own idea at all; they could share their partner’s idea and give credit to their partner.
  • You could randomly call on students to participate (I will do this for my quieter students who are less likely to raise a hand, though I do tell them in advance I will do this).

Sharing is your opportunity for students to hear and understand one another as a class and ultimately come to a unified set of conclusions about the question posed. If students had inaccurate or incomplete answers before, they ought to fix their notes after listening to their classmates.

Final Suggestions for Success

With so many advantages from the think-pair-share model, it’s obvious that this can easily become a core strategy for engaging student thinking and discussion. This simple approach leaves little room for confusion and emphasizes important skills.

To make sure you make the most out of this strategy, consider some of these final suggestions. First, make sure you explain your reason for doing think-pair-share with your students. When they understand the purpose and the process, they’re more likely to reach the anticipated outcomes. Second, don’t feel like you need to always plan your think-pair-share discussions in advance: This works great for on-the-spot discussions you suddenly decide to have!

Finally, it makes sense to try modeling the procedure with students first, early in the year. This will help show students what exactly they ought to do at each step along the way and helps them feel more comfortable knowing they are engaging in the task properly. It’s not complicated, but clear instructions lead to great outcomes!

Have you used think-pair-share teaching strategies in your class? Tell us your tips for making the most of this activity in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.