In this blog post, Katherine writes about think, pair, share, a learning strategy that can be easily incorporated into classroom practice as a way of structuring learners’ approach to a task. She explains what think, pair, share is and why it can be useful. She then shares a step-by-step guide to using the approach in the classroom. She ends with a simple reflection task to support your professional development.
Think, Pair, Share
Think, pair, share is a learning strategy where children work together to find the answer to a question or the solution to a problem or challenge. Each child begins by thinking about the topic on their own and starting to formulate their ideas. Then they pair up with a partner who has been doing their own thinking. Together they share their ideas, helping each other to understand the issues more fully and increasing their engagement with the topic. They can later share their joint ideas with a wider audience.
Six reasons to use Think, pair, share
- It gives children an opportunity to think individually about a question before formulating an answer. This thinking time is key as it ensures children aren’t rushed into producing ideas (and language) before they are ready and thus feeling less confident than they would if given more time.
- It encourages children to be fully engaged as they focus their attention on the problem. Engagement is widely recognised as being a vital element in making sure maximum learning occurs.
- It helps children become better oral communicators. Children have to explain their ideas clearly so that their partners understand and a discussion can ensue. They can use some of their thinking time to consider which words they need to use to convey meaning.
- It helps develop children’s listening skills as they, in turn, pay attention and try to understand their partner’s ideas and opinions. If the teacher supplies models of useful language for asking for clarification, this will support both the speaker and the listener and make the experience richer.
- It fosters collaboration as the children work together to complete a task or find an answer to a question. Often highlighted as a 21st century skill, collaboration has undoubtedly been an important factor in successful learning for centuries.
- It helps build a child’s confidence, especially a child who is sometimes less willing to speak in front of a larger group. When a think, pair, share activity is set up well, even the most reluctant speakers can discover that they can express themselves coherently, be understood and have their ideas and opinions valued.
Think, pair, share can be used at any point of a lesson and with most classroom materials. When introducing the strategy with a new group it is a good idea to start off in a simple way, for example using existing questions in your classroom materials such as comprehension questions after a Reading. Later, as children get used to the technique, you can use it in more ambitious ways, creating your own tasks that support children’s learning in your unique context, practising key language and topics they need to know. Below is a simple step-by-step guide to using think, pair, share.
Provide the children with something to think about. Exactly what will depend on their age, abilities, skills and knowledge. A couple of simple open-ended questions about a topic they can relate to works well. One good starting point is to look at a unit of work that the children are doing, or are about to do, in the classroom, and to ask a couple of questions. Linking the questions to a course topic will have the bonus of getting children to activate or learn key language they might need later on. Look at these example questions based on the topic of Friends.
- Is it important to help our friends? (Why?)
- How can we help our friends?
Make sure the children understand the questions. You can do this by asking each question aloud, then showing the children that you are thinking (using gesture and facial expressions) before providing an example answer yourself each time. You might also like to mime and play acting to explain the meaning of help in this example.
When you are sure that the children understand the questions give them a specific length of time to think about their answers. Make this explicit by telling them how long they have got to think or by writing the time on the board (1 or 2 minutes is usually long enough). While children are busy thinking, use gesture again to indicate that you are doing the same. Modeling a task is usually the easiest way to make sure children understand what they have to do.
Put the children into pairs to discuss their ideas and thoughts. Teachers have different ideas when it comes to pair work and especially how to set up a pair work task. Think carefully about how you choose partners for the children. Consider these questions:
- Is it better to pair two children with similar abilities or to pair a strong child with a child who needs more support and help?
- Is it a good idea to change partners each time or should you stick to the same partners?
- Is it better to pair children randomly (or for you to appear to be pairing randomly) or is it better to use a system?
There are no rigid right or wrong answers to these questions. It depends very much on context. Make sure the children have the language they need to express their ideas and always offer support. A simple and effective way of doing this is to write some useful phrases on the board or make reusable posters with the language. The phrases will depend on the children’s age and level. This is an example:
I think (it is important to help friends) because it is kind. I agree. I think the same. One idea is (to share our things). Another idea is (to listen to our friends). That’s a good idea!
Tell children how much time they have got for this part of the task. Timing will depend on the nature of the question but three minutes should be enough.
This is a good stage in the lesson to monitor the children, praising them for their ideas and their efforts at speaking English. Don’t worry too much about accuracy unless errors make it impossible to be understood. Remember this should be a confidence-building exercise so it is better to offer a good model discreetly rather than draw attention to a child’s errors.
After sharing their ideas children will be more prepared to give feedback to the rest of the class. This step isn’t always necessary but is a good way to get children used to speaking to a wider audience.
Try out the Think, pair, share technique described above. Then spend some time completing the reflection tasks below. This can be done in your own professional development journal or in a discussion with a colleague.
- Was the technique successful?
- How did the learners respond?
- Did you encounter any problems? If ‘yes’, how did you resolve them?
- Would you use this technique again? If ‘No’, why not? If ‘Yes’, would you do anything differently?
If you use Think, pair, share with your class, we’d love to hear how it goes and we’d love to hear how your learners responded!
Katherine Bilsborough is a co-author for National Geographic Learning’s new seven-level series for Young Learners of English, Look. Find out more ELTNGL.com/look!
Author: Katherine Bilsborough
Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website teachingenglish.org.uk and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.