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Strategy Stretch: Expanding Your Think-Pair-Share

Want to create opportunities for learners to verbally process and make sense of what they are learning? How about increasing student talk time in the classroom? One effective strategy for learners of all ages is Think-Pair-Share.

Learners enjoy talking. Focusing them on the subject can sometimes be a challenge. Think-Pair-Share isn’t a new strategy. But what if we change the word “think”? Providing guidance to help focus a conversation may be as simple as changing our language when it comes to “think.” It’s actually a bit funny that assessment language provides us with so many terms to prompt learners when they think. Consider for example using words like predict, paraphrase, generate, or summarize. Those responses all involve thinking and a specific focus for the thinking and conversation. We may have used these terms for the prompt we are asking learners to Think-Pair-Share about. Yet is it more powerful as a prompt or the action we’re asking them to take?

We use Think-Pair-Share for several reasons--to give learners time to

  • organize their thoughts about a topic
  • share their ideas with peers
  • build communication skills

Time is a key element in each of the three reasons. Time to think and a structure for organizing the thinking help build critical thinking skills. Sharing individually with a peer promotes participation in a safe setting, one-on-one, and a chance to test ideas. By adding specificity to our “think” language, we help build specific communication skills.

Talking allows learners to own the learning, elaborate on and connect their ideas, and practice their speaking skills. It also means that the listener can enhance their active and respectful listening skills. But guess what? Neither role may come naturally to all learners. There is some setup and instruction involved to start using this strategy. Start by explaining the what and why of the strategy. Consider modeling it for the class. If you’ve used this strategy with the current group of students, consider switching out “think” with another action closer to the goal of the conversation, giving learners a focus for their thinking.

Offering learners the opportunity to stretch their thinking and share in a safe setting is one way to engage them as part of the classroom learning team, becoming instructional resources for each other. When ready, consider variations on the sharing theme. Vary the way pairs form, have two rounds of paired sharing or alter the way sharing happens (talk only or some method of recording ideas). Time to organize learning, chances to process with a peer and options to talk in the classroom are ways to expand learner engagement and ownership.

I’d love to know how you use Think-Pair-Share with your learners.


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