Think-pair-share

Think-Pair-Share is a widely used and highly effective form of informal group learning. It is low-risk and high impact. It is a collaborative learning strategy that:

  • can be used productively in large classes
  • encourages students to be reflective about course content
  • allows students to privately formulate their thoughts before sharing them with others, and
  • can be used to develop specific higher-order thinking skills.

A brief think-pair-share exercise might begin with students having information provided through a reading assignment, a short lecture, a video, a PowerPoint, a prior life experience, or a personal opinion. The instructor then poses a single question, with students are asked to reflect (think!) on the question and individually note their responses in writing.

The specific question the instructor poses influences the nature and quality of responses the student provides. Instructor posed questions should be designed purposefully and thoughtfully.

Educational benefits derived from having students first record their individual reactions/responses in writing include:

  • having to write causes all or most students to become engaged in personal reflection
  • Writing can stimulate productive thinking
  • Providing students who favor introversion with an opportunity to first look inward before being called upon to respond spontaneously in public, and
  • Creating a set of notes or speaking points that can be used later both when talking to a partner and in large group discussion.
Think Pair Share

Students then turn to a partner and share their responses. This can end the sharing, or the pair may turn to another pair and share again in groups of four. The specific discussion directions the instructor provides students with can focus students' attention to specific thinking skills.

For example, asking students to "Identify points of commonality and differences among your two replies" involves students in "comparing and contrasting"; alternatively, asking students to "Select the best idea contained among the ideas found in both your lists and describe the criteria you used when making this selection" involves students in the process that Bloom labelled Evaluation.

Educational benefits derived from having students share their written responses with a partner include:

  • providing an non-threatening opportunity for each student to speak with a partner rather than in front of the whole group
  • engaging half the class in speaking and half in focused listening during this period
  • offering an opportunity for partners to offer one another confirmation and support (e.g., "That is a good idea that I did not think of myself") and
  • helping students come to see and believe in the merits of collaboration (i.e., that two or more heads can be better than one).

After providing sufficient time for participants to speak with their partners, the instructor may then select some pairs to each share a response with the whole class. After this segment of large group discussion, the instructor can then both provide additional noteworthy points as well as a concise summary/synthesis of this activity before moving on to the next class segment.

Jim Eison, PhD

Professor of Higher Education

Department of Adult, Career and Higher Education, University of South Florida with some adaption.