An Extended Think-Pair-Share Application: Trends in the U.S. Wage Structure

This page authored by Linda K. Carter, Baylor University
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In a think-pair-share activity, students first work independently to apply theoretical concepts discussed in class to analyze graphically the effects of changes in the relative supply of (or demand for) skilled labor on the relative wage during various time periods. Students are then paired to share and revise their answers, combining the answers from each part of the question to describe the long-run trend in the U.S. wage structure. These teams are then paired with another team who has completed the same exercise to discuss their answers, revising them if needed, before being randomly chosen to report answers to the larger class.

  • This exercise is designed for an economic history course; however, those covering long-run trends in wages/prices in any course might find the activity template equally useful.

Learning Goals

Identify factors that shift the relative supply of (and relative demand for) skilled labor (Proficiency: accessing existing knowledge).

Translate context specific events into such factors (Proficiency: interpreting existing knowledge).

Analyze graphically the effect of these shifts during various decades on (relative) equilibrium wages during that period (Proficiency: displaying command of existing knowledge).

Integrate the findings regarding relative wages in various periods to describe the long-run trend in relative wages over the 20th century.

Context for Use

Knowledge required: This exercise is intended to be administered after the graphical representation of relative supply/demand of skilled labor is covered by the instructor and applied to an historical trend in relative wages.

Class size: This exercise was originally designed for a class of 35-40 students, but it can be easily adapted for smaller or larger classes.

Time required: The exercise is designed to take a total of 20-25 minutes.

Description and Teaching Materials

Two handouts are provided to support this exercise. The Student Handout for Wage Structure Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 21kB Jun3 12) includes instructions for the think-pair-share exercise. Answer Key for Wage Structure Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 114kB Apr15 12) is a detailed answer key for the exercise.

Teaching Notes and Tips


Class size poses no constraints on utilizing this exercise as it only requires that instructors facilitate the pairing of students after the initial independent work is completed.

The 20-25 minute exercise is comprised of the following think-pair-share components: 8-10 minutes for students to work independently to solve the problem, 5-7 minutes to share and revise answers within their pairs, 2-3 minutes to discuss their answers with another team (revising answers as necessary), and 5 minutes for reporting back to the larger class.


As part of the set-up for this exercise, students are told to treat it as if it were an exam question in order to test their comprehension. Students are encouraged to attempt the exercise during the think stage of the exercise without looking at their notes and to provide a carefully constructed (and labeled) answer. Requiring students to independently formulate a draft answer in this stage ensures individual accountability.

Student pairs are the mechanism by which positive interdependence is facilitated. In this exercise, since two students are working together towards a single answer, it supports positive interdependence through output goal interdependence.

During the sharing stage of the exercise, students methodically take turns presenting their answers to different parts of the exercise (see instructions on exercise handout) as their partner reflects and asks questions of clarification through face-to-face (promotive) interaction. This also supports positive interdependence by explicitly generating role interdependence.

During the thinking and sharing stages of the exercise, it is imperative that the instructor move throughout the classroom to check in with students, monitoring progress, and intervening when necessary. Although instructors may be tempted to directly answer student questions during this period of time, student learning is enhanced to a greater degree if the instructor guides struggling students by posing reflective questions back to them. The instructor will need to alert students at the appropriate time to begin working with a partner and, again, when it is time for the pairs to match up.

Conclusion to exercise:

Reporting back to the larger group can be facilitated by tossing a soft ball to a random pair and asking them to share part of their answer (using a verbal description or by drawing the appropriate graph on the blackboard). Thereafter, students toss the ball to another pair to share a remaining part of the exercise. This process continues until all parts of the answer have been covered.

Alerting students in advance that some pairs will be randomly called upon to explain their answers to the class at the close of the exercise helps to motivate students to work diligently on the task during class and - because the reporting out process occurs in this manner (via a somewhat random draw of students) - students are more engaged in the reporting out process.


Since students are receiving feedback regarding their understanding during the sharing stages (in pairs and across the larger group), they are participating in formative assessment.

This particular think-pair-share exercise has no formal summative assessment directly tied to it. However, it is set up in a manner that mimics question content and structure which appears on quizzes and exams covering this material. Exercise answer keys are provided to students directly after the exercise (either through handouts or electronic facilitation) to reinforce the learning process. Alternatively, instructors may wish to collect a pair/group answer for question (5) prior to reporting out and assign grades based on student performance on this question.

References and Resources

Borjas, George J. 2008. Labor Economics (4th edition). McGraw Hill: New York.
Goldin, Claudia and Lawrence Katz. 2008. The Race between Education and Technology. Belknap Press: Cambridge, MA.