How to Effectively Think-Pair-Share

By Scott Sterling

Among formative assessment strategies, Think-Pair-Share might be one of the most popular and effective. When done right, it’s a mix of reflection, collaboration, and whole-group sharing. Instead of having a haphazard class discussion period that may or may not accomplish the objectives, Think-Pair-Share lends some organization to the process.

The Nuts and Bolts

  1. Think

The teacher poses a question based on the information just covered in a lesson. Students are given a brief amount of time (no more than two minutes) to consider their own feelings and reactions to the question. This time is supposed to be silent, so students need to be discouraged from blurting out their answers prematurely.

  1. Pair

After the Think time is over, students pair up with a neighbor. They exchange the thoughts they gathered during Think time. After comparing their ideas, they come up with a mutually agreed-upon understanding of how to best represent their collective opinions.

  1. Share

The pair is then asked to share their ideas with another neighboring pair or the entire class, depending on how many reluctant speakers are in class. As responses are being shared, the teacher usually writes each idea on the board.

For a more formal assessment, some teachers ask the students to write their reactions and ideas down. Others even provide a graphic organizer so each aspect of Think-Pair-Share can be recorded by each student, deepening the students’ knowledge of the subject.

The Effects Behind the Strategy

Grouping students together has always been shown to give learners a richer understanding of the subject at hand. Socrates even found groups most effective in ancient Greece. The students share their ideas and learn new insights from each other, encountering aspects of the question they probably wouldn’t have thought of before.

The beauty of Think-Pair-Share is that it eliminates a lot of the mess of collaboration. First, students group themselves with a minimum of fuss. Second, it doesn’t take as long as a more formal group project or task. If Think-Pair-Share takes more than five minutes, you’re doing it wrong.

Some rules do have to be established; otherwise, the strategy will go down the same rabbit holes as other group activities. These guidelines need to be modeled early in the school year if Think-Pair-Share is to be used consistently. Teachers might even consider creating a poster or diagram for their wall with these rules:

  • Students need to both contribute and listen
  • Students should display respect for everyone’s opinion
  • Questions are always welcome
  • If asked to explain, students need to be patient with their classmates
  • At the end, everyone needs to understand what was covered

With the right leading questions, Think-Pair-Share can even serve as a valuable problem- solving strategy, ticking another box on the list of 21st-century skills.

Although Think-Pair-Share can be a powerful addition to the formative assessment toolbox, it’s important to mix in some other strategies that might activate other processes in the brain, as well as appeal to students whose modalities might limit their success in sharing ideas.

In particular, still leave opportunities for shy, withdrawn students to show what they know. Think-Pair-Share gives them a bit of a safety net to move toward comfort in sharing, but it should be done gradually.