Professional Learning

A Collaborative Learning Routine: What Is the Think-Pair-Share Strategy in Teaching?

11 Min Read
Hero two students woring together WF1944450

In my second-grade classroom, think-pair-share has become a simple yet powerful way to foster collaboration and instill problem-solving skills. Let me paint a picture of this strategy in action: We dig into a challenging math problem as a whole group, with time for individual reflection before students pair up to tackle the task together. This is followed up with a lively class discussion, where students share insights from their partnered work and questions are clarified.

Sure, I could simply demonstrate the solution upfront, but the thoughtful discussions that come from the think-pair-share strategy underscore its invaluable place in every teacher’s toolkit.

What Is Think-Pair-Share and When Should You Use It?

Think-pair-share (TPS) is a structured collaborative learning strategy that includes the three steps listed in its name. Students are given a task or problem to work on and think about a possible solution or a pathway to finding the solution before working with a partner to solve the problem. Finally, they are asked to share their solutions. The sharing portion can be within a small group or the whole class.

A common misconception I’ve noticed in educational circles is the interchangeable use of Turn and Talk and think-pair-share. While both strategies encourage collaboration and discussion, they differ in their structure and sequence of activities. From my experience, Turn and Talk serves as a handy tool for quick, impromptu discussions within a lesson. It provides a means to informally assess students’ background knowledge or ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute their thoughts. Turn and Talk might occur during the Pair phase of think-pair-share. On the other hand, I generally reserve think-pair-share for moments when students are tasked with problem-solving, deeper engagement with content, or for challenging questions that require deep thinking or open-ended questions with many possible answers.

Why Is Think-Pair-Share Effective?

The example from my classroom is just one way you can use think-pair-share. It is a versatile instructional strategy that can be used across grade levels and content areas and can even be embedded within other instructional routines. Let’s dive into why it’s so effective.

Benefits of Think-Pair-Share

There are many advantages of think-pair-share, namely it promotes collaborative learning and holds students accountable for their participation, ensuring that every voice is heard. It offers students additional time to think, benefiting students who process information at a slower pace than their classmates and English Language Learners (ELLs). Think-pair-share provides a way to rehearse important vocabulary and ideas safely before sharing them with the class.

Think-pair-share can be easily planned or used spontaneously, making it a flexible tool that can be applied across subjects and at any point in a lesson. It encourages students to develop critical thinking skills and active listening and points students to view their peers as valuable sources of knowledge. In my own classroom, I recall a student who became more enthusiastic about sharing with the class and participating in general after receiving positive feedback during think-pair-share discussions.

Disadvantages of Think-Pair-Share

While there are many advantages of think-pair-share, it’s important to address potential challenges. One concern is ensuring that students use the Think and Pair phases effectively. To tackle this, consider implementing strategies, such as having students write down their thoughts or use a signal to indicate readiness to move forward. Additionally, think-pair-share may not allow for individual assessment as easily as direct questioning, and some students may struggle to engage fully in partner discussions. It’s crucial to set clear expectations and provide support, such as assigning roles to each partner and emphasizing the importance of active participation. Additionally, to prevent discussions from dragging on excessively or one student dominating the conversation, consider setting time limits and monitoring student interactions closely.

Is Think-Pair-Share a Way to Differentiate Instruction?

As educators, we use differentiated instruction to address individual student learning needs by offering modifications and accommodations of content, process, product, or learning environment. Think-pair-share helps address students’ specific learning needs as it offers valuable processing time for all learners, encourages critical thinking skills and vocabulary development, and allows students to receive feedback from a partner before sharing with the whole class.

With effective planning, you can create opportunities to differentiate instruction through content, process, product, and learning environment within the think-pair-share routine. Here are some ideas that you can use to differentiate with think-pair-share:

  • Content: Introduce choice by allowing student pairs to choose a question that they will answer together or assign questions based on pairings. For example, in writing, you might pair students based on their writing topics so they can work together to research a topic of interest or, for reading, provide text sets with a wide range of reading levels to partnerships.
  • Process: During the Think phase, provide materials at different levels. Also, provide videos or audio alongside a reading to help students develop their answers to questions.
  • Product: For a longer project, let partners choose how they will demonstrate their learning during the Share portion. They could create a poster, make a video, or use a green screen app to share their response rather than presenting to the class.
  • Learning Environment: Incorporate technology by inviting partners to discuss their thinking through an online message board or collaborate on an online whiteboard. Students can even share on a video app.

These are only a few ways to accommodate learners based on their specific learning needs and interests. You know your students best, so feel free to use these ideas as a jumping-off point to differentiate for your specific learners.

Check Understanding: Is Think-Pair-Share a Formative Assessment?

Think-pair-share isn’t just about collaborative learning; it’s also a valuable tool for formative assessment. One think-pair-share activity can act both as a powerful learning moment and as a formative assessment tool. At each phase, teachers can gather valuable insights into student understating. Here are some effective strategies for utilizing think-pair-share as a formative assessment.

  • Pose questions that prompt critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This sets the stage for deeper engagement and provides a basis for assessing student comprehension.
  • After the Think phase, have students display their answers on dry-erase boards. Then, pair students based on their responses, allowing for discussion and comparison of answers.
  • While students engage in the Pair phase, circulate around the room and listen to their conversations. This allows you to gauge overall class understanding, provide immediate support or clarification as needed, and determine how to structure the Share phase.
  • During the Share phase, ask pairs to share their answers with the class. Observing these responses can help inform your teaching decisions, whether it’s addressing misconceptions, reinforcing key concepts, or determining the next steps in the lesson.
  • Listening to student conversations during the pair portion of the activity to assess general class understanding, provide just-in-time scaffolding, and decide how to sequence the Share portion of the activity.
  • Provide students with graphic organizers to record their thought processes during the activity. This serves as a tangible record of their understanding and problem-solving approach. This is especially useful if you’re unable to monitor every group individually.

These are just a few ways to make the most of think-pair-share as a formative assessment. Remember, this strategy can be integrated into most lessons or at different parts of the lesson. Use its flexibility to your advantage, whether you’re assessing prior knowledge or checking for understanding at the end of a lesson.

An Engaging Think-Pair-Share Activity to Use with Any Class

To show just how flexible the think-pair-share strategy is, here is an engaging think-pair-share activity that you can use right away with any class:

  • Plan Partnerships: Transitioning smoothly through the phases of think-pair-share begins with setting up partnerships. Whether you’ve pre-assigned partners or plan to pair students on the spot, clarity is key. Ensure students know who their partners will be before diving into the activity.
  • Set Expectations: Establish clear expectations for the activity. Inform students that you’ll present a question, giving them individual thinking time before engaging in partner discussions. Consider modeling the activity with a student volunteer using an example question to set the stage.
  • Pose a Question: Crafting the right question is pivotal. Opt for open-ended queries that invite diverse perspectives, encourage critical thinking, and delve into the heart of the lesson’s content. For instance, consider asking, “What changes would you make to . . . ?” and finish the question based on the topic of your lesson.
  • Think: Provide think time for students so they can reflect on the question individually. Encourage them to jot down their thoughts on sticky notes or signal readiness with a hand signal. Letting students know a specific timeframe, such as one minute, can help maintain focus and momentum.
  • Pair: Ensure clarity on partnerships beforehand to streamline the process. You might facilitate this transition by pairing students knee-to-knee or with table partners. Monitor conversations attentively, offering praise, encouragement, and guidance where needed. Consider providing additional support, such as graphic organizers or assigned roles, as students adjust to the strategy.
  • Share: Invite select students to share their insights with the class. You can opt for random selection or base choices on your monitoring of student interactions. As students share, summarize key points, address misconceptions, and foster further discussion. You can also incorporate technology during the Share phase by having students use sites to share their thinking with the class.

Once students have shared, summarize or synthesize the discussion and address any lingering misconceptions before moving on with the lesson.

Adapt This Strategy to Any Subject with These Think-Pair-Share Examples

Now that you have seen how flexible this strategy really is, let’s look into some more specific ways that you can adapt this strategy across multiple subjects:

Reading

Elementary students enjoy sharing their reading insights, so structuring these discussions is key to minimizing interruptions during independent reading. After teaching a strategy, prompt students to jot down responses to a question like “How does the problem in the story get worse before it gets better?” during independent reading time. Halfway through, remind them to share with a partner before they share their ideas with the whole group or their table group.

For older students, consider facilitating a whole-group discussion on the themes of a book or story, prompting partners to individually consider their answers before collaboratively looking for text evidence to support their responses. Finally, encourage them to share their findings with the class.

Writing

Think-pair-share offers opportunities for collaboration throughout the writing process, particularly at the onset of a unit focused on a specific genre, like personal narratives. At this stage, students often grapple with narrowing down their ideas into meaningful moments. Using think-pair-share, teachers can harness the collective creativity of the class to spark each other’s ideas. Who better to inspire original writing than peers who share similar experiences yet offer unique perspectives?

Math

In math, think-pair-share can be used to introduce a question to engage students in productive struggle. But think-pair-share activities can also be the heart of a math lesson. For instance, students can consider a problem individually before collaborating with a partner to solve it. Providing partners with poster paper to visually represent their solution approaches adds depth to the learning process. Follow up with a gallery walk to allow the entire class to explore the diverse problem-solving strategies used by their peers.

Science

Think-pair-share correlates well with the 5E model for inquiry-based science learning, which is composed of five phases: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. During Engage, students consider an inquiry question individually. Transitioning to Explore, they collaborate in pairs, discussing and testing their hypotheses. In Explain, students tell their discoveries in a whole-group or small-group setting, drawing from partner discussions. Returning to partnerships during Elaborate, they can refine understanding. Finally, in Evaluate, students have an opportunity to reflect and offer final thoughts.

Social Studies

By presenting an inquiry question alongside primary and secondary sources, students engage in dynamic discussions, drawing evidence from diverse perspectives. Encouraging each student to explore a different source provides opportunities for debates within partnerships and opportunities to develop critical thinking and empathy.

Get Started Now with a Think-Pair-Share Template

You can introduce this routine to students by first offering them a think-pair-share graphic organizer. Explaining the structure of the routine and providing a graphic organizer can help students know what to expect and help them focus their conversations on answering the question and synthesizing their ideas in anticipation of the Share portion of this instructional strategy. As students become more familiar with the routine, the graphic organizer can be faded or provided as an option for accountability.

Here is a think-pair-share graphic organizer template that you can use with your students for any grade-level and content area:

A Versatile Strategy in Your Teacher Toolkit

By structuring collaborative learning experiences, think-pair-share is a powerful technique that caters to diverse learning needs. Its versatility provides many opportunities for differentiation, whether through varying instructional methods, adapting materials, or accommodating individual learning needs and interests. With think-pair-share, you can develop a collaborative and inclusive classroom where students are active participants, share ideas, and learn directly from one another.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

For even more strategies to implement in the classroom, check out our differentiated instruction articles and resources.

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