Initial Publication Date: January 11, 2007

Think-Pair-Share activities pose a question to students that they must consider alone and then discuss with a neighbor before settling on a final answer. This is a great way to motivate students and promote higher-level thinking. Even though the activity is called think-"PAIR"-share, this is the term many instructors use for pairs and small groups (three or four students) alike. Groups may be formed formally or informally. Often this group discussion "sharing" is followed up with a larger classroom discussion. Some think-pair-share activities are short, "quick-response think-pair-share" and sometimes the activities may be longer and more involved, "extended think-pair-share." The instructor can use the student responses as a basis for discussion, to motivate a lecture segment, and to obtain feedback about what students know or are thinking and it is easy to incorporate more than one think-pair-share activity in a given class period.

Advantages of think-pair-share

  • Instructors find they can have a format change during lecture that only takes a small amount of class time. Preparation is generally easy and takes a short amount of time.
  • The personal interaction motivates students who might not generally be interested in the discipline.
  • You can ask different kinds and levels of questions.
  • It engages the entire class and allows quiet students to answer questions without having to stand out from their classmates.
  • You can assess student understanding by listening in on several groups during the activity, and by collecting responses at the end.
  • The fluid nature of group formation makes this technique very effective and popular for use by instructors of large classes.
  • Full class discussion is generally more fruitful after a think-pair-share and throughout the semester as the frequent use of such activities generally improves student comfort levels and willingness to participate throughout a class period.

Steps and tips for using think-pair-share

  1. Click above to watch a video of Greg Hancock, College of William and Mary, demonstrate how to use the Think-Pair-Share method at an On the Cutting Edge workshop.
    Ask a question. Be aware that open-ended questions are more likely to generate more discussion and higher order thinking. A think-pair-share can take as little as three minutes or can be longer, depending on the question or task and the class size.
  2. Give students a minute to two (longer for more complicated questions) to discuss the question and work out an answer.
  3. Ask students to get together in pairs or at most, groups with three or four students. If need be, have some of the students move. If the instructor definitely wants to stick with pairs of students, but have an odd number of students, then allow one group of three. It's important to have small groups so that each student can talk.
  4. Ask for responses from some or all of the pairs or small groups. Include time to discuss as a class as well as time for student pairs to address the question.

Examples of think-pair-share questions include:

  • Describe and interpret the image. Images could include graphs, photographs, cartoons, and other visuals. Tasks and Engagement Triggers for Interactive Segments
  • Before we start talking about global warming, have there been periods warmer than the present in the past? If so, when did such periods occur and what is the evidence? After responses are collected, and possibly a short lecture on climate history: How do we know what the climate was like before people started keeping track?
  • From the data provided, what was the rate of the chemical reaction?
  • In the context of a basic supply and demand model in the market for low skill labor, what is the expected market impact of an increase in the minimum wage, assuming the minimum wage is higher than the current market equilibrium wage? Is this potential impact used in arguments in favor of or against increases in minimum wage? Fully explain your response.
  • What kinds of jobs do you think require people with knowledge of Calculus?

Challenges of the think-pair-share technique

One of the biggest challenges of the think-pair-share is to get all students to truly be engaged. Obviously, instructors hope that they have selected questions that are sufficiently interesting to capture student attention. However, the instructor might also want to consider other ways to increase the likelihood of student participation. The instructor might offer a participation grade somehow tied to a short product students produce from their discussion. Or the instructor can find ways to increase student awareness of the likelihood their group might be called upon to share their answer with the entire class. The instructor might also consider using some of the think-pair-questions on exams and making it clear to students that that is the case.

Examples of think-pair-share activities

Click above to watch a video of Greg Hancock, College of William and Mary, demonstrate the Think-Pair-Share method in the classroom.
One extension of think-pair-share is write-pair-share, in which students are given a chance to write down their answer before discussing it with their neighbor. You may wish to collect written responses from each student or each pair before or after discussing the answer. This can be particularly useful for questions where students would benefit from drawing graphs or using specific formulas in order to synthesize information.

References, further reading, and sources for examples of think-pair-share

Lyman, F., 1987, Think-Pair-Share: An expanding teaching technique: MAA-CIE Cooperative News, v. 1, p. 1-2.

King, 1993 , From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side, College Teaching v. 41 no. 1 p. 30-35

Visit the think-pair-share collection for examples.