The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 10
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
Jennifer Gonzalez: Hey this is Jennifer Gonzalez, welcoming you to the Cult of Pedagogy podcast. In episode 10, we are going to talk about Think-Pair-Share.
Gonzalez: Thank you so much for joining me for episode 10. I’m really proud to have had ten full podcast episodes. It’s really exciting. I’m trying to increase the number of times that I podcast. This is one thing that I’ve decided to add. Every couple of podcasts just do one on my own where I just cover one really specific topic. So this time I was thinking about Think-Pair-Share and what a really great instructional tool it is and how it sometimes gets dogged by people as being kind of lame or kind of cheesy or whatever. I think it’s so useful so I just wanted to lift it up today and talk about what’s so great about it, how you do it and give you some tips for doing it better.
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Okay, so let’s get into Think-Pair-Share. This is a very, very common teaching strategy. So what I’m going to talk about first is what it is, what is so great about it and give you some tips for how to do it better. If you’re already doing it or if you’ve tried it and you’ve given it up. Maybe there were some tweaks that you could have done that would have made you do a better job at it.
What is Think-Pair-Share?
So Think-Pair-Share is basically this: You are — whether you’re giving a lecture or showing a movie or doing any kind of an activity at all, basically where students are receiving information — you have them stop. You have them think about what it is that they just learned. They turn to a partner, which is the “pair” part of it, and they share something. They either answer a question that you have given them, or they reflect on something that you have just taught them, or they paraphrase or summarize something that they’ve just learned to each other. Now that could be it for the sharing part, or you could add another piece where you have that pair then share with the class what they talked about. And that’s basically it.
People that use Think-Pair-Share frequently, one common way that they do it is that they — if they’re giving a lecture, let’s say it’s a twenty minute lecture on something — they will stop every few minutes and do a Think-Pair-Share, just to process what they just heard or ask each other a question about something that they’re confused by or whatever it is. Then, once it’s done, you continue on with what you were doing.
There are some variations on Think-Pair-Share. One is called the Think-Pair-Square, where you will have students talk to a partner — that’s the “pair” part of it. Then, they will then turn to another pair and the four of them will discuss what they just shared with each other. So it’s just sort of, it gives an extra boost to the sharing. So they’re hearing more ideas and more voices and adding new layers to their conversation.
Another variation, which is very similar to Think-Pair-Share is something that comes from Whole Brain Teaching, which is a method created by Chris Biffle and I love it. I will talk about that in another podcast or another article. In Whole Brain Teaching, they do something called Teach-Okay, where the teacher will spend very little time, maybe ninety seconds, teaching the concept and then will say to the students “Teach” and the students will say “Okay.” They will turn to a partner and one person will be the teacher and they will basically re-teach what they just learned to that partner. Then they will basically take turns being the teacher. More or less, that’s another way of doing Think-Pair-Share, it’s basically the same concept that’s been kind of ratcheted up and been given more of a specific target.
So that’s what Think-Pair-Share is. Now, why do I think it’s so great and why am I pushing it in this podcast? I have a ton of reasons.
Benefits of Think-Pair-Share
The first thing, probably the best reason, I think, for doing Think-Pair-Share is that it breaks up your content into manageable, bite-sized pieces. The human brain can only process so much all at once. You really need to do something with information in order to learn it. You can’t just do intake, intake, intake, intake. It needs to be processed in some way. This is why the lecture has gotten such a bad reputation because if students are just sitting and receiving, they are really not learning very well. Attention spans are short and sooner or later you’re going to have people tuning out and not really digesting. So Think-Pair-Share gives you a really easy way to just break up your content into pieces.
Another great reason that Think-Pair-Share is so great is that it gets your students active. It takes them out of “sitting and getting” mode and puts them into talking mode. And students want to talk. Students of all ages want to be able to interact with each other. So it gets them active, it wakes them up. It gets them doing something with your information.
It also introduces novelty, which is a really important concept in learning. Because they are not just hearing the information from one source, which is often you, they are now interacting with a peer about that same content. So anything that that peer says to them about that content, they’re going to say it in a slightly different way than you just said it. That offers the material in a novel way to the student who’s hearing it. So anything they say to each other is a novel situation, is a novel way of engaging with that content. Novelty equals learning. It’s an experience they’re having with that content that is unique and that will help them to learn it better.
Another great thing is that it allows for formative assessment. Sometimes a student doesn’t realize they don’t understand something until they try to explain it. Then they realize “Oh my gosh, I have a question”, or “I don’t get it.” Also, if you’re walking around the room listening to these conversations, you can immediately pick up on misconceptions. You can answer questions right away. If a student is trying to explain something and they look at you and they say “Wait a second, no actually I didn’t understand this at all. I didn’t get it.” That gives you a chance immediately to find out. Then you can go around and find out does anyone else have that same question? Does anyone else — you can stop right in the middle and correct a misconception immediately. So it’s a great way to gauge what your students are learning and how well they’re understanding the material.
Another reason Think-Pair-Share is so great is because of the auditory, kinesthetic, verbal stuff. I mean, I said a few minutes ago that it gets kids active. But it allows them to process the material through different channels of their brain. In terms of learning modalities or learning styles, this allows students to not only get the information auditorily or visually from you giving it to them, but by talking about it, that’s more kinesthetic. That’s more of them really engaging more of their senses with the material, so they’re going to learn it better.
Finally, and this should not be discounted, there is almost no prep time that you have to do to prepare for Think-Pair-Share. You can literally do it very spontaneously. If you’re in the middle of something you can say “Look, I’ve been talking for too long. I want to know what you think.” You can right away say “Turn to a partner and here’s what I want you to talk about for the next two minutes. So you don’t have to do any kind of special worksheet or any kind of clicker system or anything. You can do it anywhere, anytime, right on the spot. So it’s great. No planning and no prep.
Effective Use of Think-Pair-Share
Okay, here are some tips that will help you do Think-Pair-Share better. The first thing is to get more of your students’ buy-in on it. If you’re dealing with older students, especially college students, sometimes you’re going to get some eye rolling about “Why do I have to do this?” I know that as a participant sometimes in things, if I’m in a room full of strangers and someone says “Okay, turn to a stranger and start talking about this,” I get kind of annoyed. So if the person leading the session talks a little about why they want us to do a Think-Pair-Share — and I’d say do this with your students also — explain basically what I was just talking about before. “This is going to help you interact with the information better. You’re going to learn it better. It’s going to allow you to figure out what you don’t understand and you’ll come up with better questions to ask me. It’s going to also allow you to put this material into your own words, which is going to help you remember it better.” So basically get your students’ buy-in by explaining why you’re using this technique and why it’s so really good for learning.
Some other ways that you can make Think-Pair-Share work better for you: Set up your pairs ahead of time. This doesn’t mean that you have to pre-select them. But just say, “Okay today we’re going to be doing this. I’m going to be lecturing you for a little while. I’m going to have you stop occasionally to talk to a partner. Everybody make sure you have a partner right now. That way when you are ready to do the first Think-Pair-Share question, you don’t have that minute or two of people saying “Wait I don’t have a partner.” “We have a group of three, can we do that?” None of that time is wasted, everybody’s set up. A group of three, by the way, is fine. But I’d say in any class set-up, all you need is one group of three because that means you’ve had one odd person out. What you could do if you have an odd person out is you could be their partner and do the Think-Pair-Share with them. Which is kind of awkward for students, so I think it’s fine to do a group of three. So anyway, set up the pairs ahead of time, that way you don’t have any logistical issues to deal with on the first question.
Another tip for making Think-Pair-Share work better for you is to decide ahead of time who is person A and who is person B. Or who is person X and who is person Y. Basically assign people a name. Some people say you’re the peanut butter and you’re the jelly, or whatever it is, and designate turns for people. So for example, I say “I would like you to summarize what I just said to you, okay, and I would like partner A to go first for the first minute. Then I’m going to shout ‘Switch’.” So partner A talks. Then you shout “Switch” and it’s going to be partner B who’s going to talk. This prevents one person from dominating the conversation and gives people equal play. I actually got that idea also from Chris Biffle and Whole Brain Teaching. He will actually shout out “Switch” and the other person will do the teaching or the discussing, or whatever it is. So plan out the turns a little bit so that you have a more even participation.
Another tip: Ask a specific question. Sometimes, especially when you are in a room full of strangers, if you just say “Turn to a partner and share something you just learned,” you’re going to get much more sloppy participation. People are not going to really feel like coming up with something if they’ve just been sitting there listening for a while. So give them a more specific type of question. It can even be this: It can be “In one sentence, describe something that you just learned in the last two minutes.” Even that is more specific than just “Share something you learned.” Or you can say, “I want you to think for thirty seconds. Then, when I say go, I want you to turn to your partner and ask them one question that’s going to test to see if they were listening.” Or it can be something very, very specific. Suppose you just explained to them how the digestive system works. Or you explained the function of the pancreas or something like that. So you can say to them “Partner A, I want you to explain to partner B in your own words, how does the pancreas work?” And let them do it. And then, “Partner B, you explain how the pancreas works now.” They can actually literally be explaining the exact same concept back to them because they will say it in a slightly different way and it’s another way of processing it. But give them something specific to do. It doesn’t have to be a correct one-word answer, but give them some direction about their conversation because if you just ask them to talk, you will get lower quality. Especially when students aren’t quite used to doing this yet, and aren’t a big fan of the process, it helps to give them some direction.
Okay, two other things, two other tips to make Think-Pair-Share work well for you. One is walk around and listen to the conversations. I know as a teacher it is very tempting to see that two-minute discussion time as a chance to just real quick tidy something up on your desk or dip into your e-mail for just a second. Or do any of the millions of tasks you have to do in your classroom. But this is an opportunity for you to really…this is where it becomes formative assessment. If you walk around and listen to the conversations that students are having, then you are going to immediately start to understand what they’re getting and what they’re not getting. So as tempting as it is to want to go and get something done or just tune out for a few minutes, get yourself out there, walk around the room, engage in the conversations, listen to them. And tell students that you’re going to do that. Tell them that you’re not spying, you’re not evaluating, you want to hear what they’re learning. So instruct them that when you get close, they shouldn’t get shy and be quiet. They should just continue talking and ignore you. Or take the opportunity to ask you a question if you’re nearby.
The last tip for Think-Pair-Share, to make it go well, is when a given session is over, when everyone has talked for two minutes, or however long, then cold call some partners. Say, okay, bring everybody’s attention back to the group and say “I’m going to call on three different pairs and I would like to hear a summary of what you talked about or ask me a question that came up from your discussion or tell me the most interesting thing your partner said to you.” Whatever fits the topic you’re talking about. Basically get a summary of some of their conversations. There are two good things about this. One is that it is nice for other pairs to hear what other pairs have been talking about. They will get new insights. It’s another level of sharing. And it keeps everybody accountable. If some students have just been sitting there not talking about the topic they were supposed to be on, this will help everybody to realize that you will be spot-checking to see if they were on task. So that’s just another way to keep it going.
So that is my very brief podcast on Think-Pair-Share. I am a big fan of it. I have heard it get made fun of before, but I really think, especially if you’re new to presenting or teaching and you really don’t have a ton of strategies under your belt, this is such an easy one to incorporate into your teaching so that you can just immediately build in some interactivity. Even if you’re doing straight up lecturing all the time. You can just stop what you’re doing every once in a while and have people talk to each other a little bit.
To learn more strategies, to learn more stuff about teaching, to just get all kinds of different inspiration and advice, and pumping-you-up kind of stuff about your teaching, please come on over to cultofpedagogy.com. This is Jennifer Gonzalez. Thanks for listening. Have a great day. ♦