Think, Pair, Share: A Hidden Gem of Instructional Strategies

An instructional strategy that is often overlooked or misused is Think-Pair-Share (TPS).  The basic concept is simple – pose a question, give some think time, have them talk in pairs, then share out with the class – but it’s also simple to use it improperly and not see its full value.  Here are tips on how to execute it effectively so your students can reap all the benefits.

Be clear and concrete.  There’s nothing worse than having students think and then talk at their tables only to look around and see very little on-task discussion.  A common culprit is not making your expectations super clear.  Here’s what I mean:

Example 1:  Think about #1 and then we’re going to discuss it.
Example 2:  Think about #1 and write your answer in 1-2 sentences that include a justification for your ideas.  Then you’ll be talking in your tables to determine the best answer and the best evidence.  After that, I’m going to call on someone from each table to share out their best answer.

In the second example, the students know exactly where they’re headed and what they need to do.  And since they’re writing their answer, it’s easy for everyone to stay on task versus just thinking, which can lead to mind-wandering even in the most focused students.

Prioritize think time.  It’s hard to sit with silence in the classroom, especially for the teachers.  During that think time, we’re not processing the question like the kids are and so it’s easy to get impatient or accidentally cut off the think time since our mind is jumping to the next step.  This think time is crucial to making sure they actually are coming up with a fully-formed idea in order to make the partner/table discussion robust and so the class share out robust.  Making them write out their thinking can help since you can walk around and know whether or not they’ve had enough time to work through an answer before moving on to the next step.

Cold call to share out.  This can really raise the sense of urgency in a think-pair-share situation.  Going into the pair/table discussion time, if students know you are going to randomly call on a student to share their table’s answer, they are more likely to engage deeply in the conversation so that they’re ready if you call on them. 

Or take volunteers.  One of the greatest benefits of TPS is that it allows all students to process fully.  For less confident students and English Language Learners it also gives them a chance to try out their ideas on their partner/group before risking them in front of the class.  If you take volunteers to share you’ll likely get a wide variety of students and can give the more hesitant students a chance to share confidently and successfully.

Add a step.  After students have shared or the class has discussed a particularly rigorous question, have them all silently reflect and write down their main takeaways or how their thinking has changed based on the conversation.  This allows students to clarify and solidify their thinking and learning before you move on to the next task.

Trust the process.  Sometimes I’ve been tempted to skip the think-pair-share and just call on students randomly because I want to know who actually knows the answer versus who is just repeating what their partner told them.  This is counter-productive, though.  If I call on a student and they get the answer wrong, the only person who benefits is me and only mildly.  I now know that there’s a misunderstanding, but the student isn’t any better off and may be embarrassed.  But if that same student is able to articulate the right answer after a think-pair-share, consider the benefits of the process that got them there.  Even if that student simply listened to their partner or group talk, they heard the right answer, processed the right answer, and then shared the right answer out to the class.  Chances are, they’ve now internalized the right answer with no uncomfortable wrong answers required!

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