Think-pair-share (TPS) is a simple technique with a dramatic effect on student engagement. It gets all your class contributing without the fear of saying the wrong thing.
Sometimes called ‘turn and talk’, TPS requires no resources. It is quick and easy to use for all sorts of lessons. Instead of asking individual students to answer questions, TPS encourages your class to collaborate. This leads to engaged students who are involved in their learning.
What Is Think-Pair-Share?
TPS is a discussion technique for boosting engagement and understanding. It allows time for students to talk about their ideas before having to share them with the class.
So, what are the Think-Pair-Share stages?
Students spend time individually thinking about their response to your question. You can adjust the time given depending on the question.
The students work with a pre-planned partner (or a very small group). They share their ideas and listen to each other.
One or both partners share their ideas with the rest of the class.
The aim of TPS is to get all students talking. This develops their communication skills. Often students struggle to listen to each other. TPS is the perfect way to help them consider different opinions.
The Benefits of Think-Pair-Share
Do you usually ask the class a question and then select a student to answer? It’s unlikely that other learners are listening, and if they are, each response is a repeat of what another student has already said.
TPS encourages students to come to a consensus before sharing ideas. You can use TPS across the curriculum and for all ages. It works just as well for adults as young children.
Try using it for:
- Discussion questions
- Topic reviews at the end of a project
- Generating questions before starting a topic
- Revision of key areas of learning
- Reading activities
- Looking at exam questions
Active discussion builds student agency. It is particularly important for learners who struggle to engage or feel nervous about sharing their opinions.
How to Use Think-Pair-Share in Lessons
TPS is a great strategy, but it takes practice to get it right. Avoid wasting time in your lessons by setting ground rules and practicing how to talk and listen with a partner.
1: Getting Started
Before using TPS, think carefully about who you will put in partnership together.
- Putting similar ability learners together
- The friendship dynamics in the classroom
- Partnering quieter students together to avoid one student dominating the conversation
- Mixing gender to stop all-girl and all-boy teams
- Not putting best friends together unless you know they will work well
- Keeping the same partners for a term to build relationships
At first, use TPS with easy questions that just need a personal response. This will help students practice the routines.
Encourage your students to make eye contact with their partner. Ask them to share what their partner has said, to check they really are listening to each other.
2: Practicing Think-Pair-Share
Plan when you will use TPS in a lesson. Over time, your class will get quicker and give you better responses. Ask them to share how their thinking changed after speaking with their partner.
Think about how much time you will give them for each stage. You can extend this as you need, depending on how well the discussion is going.
Watch this video to see an example of how TPS can be used for classroom discussions.
3: Supporting Your Students
Some students struggle to join in with classroom conversations. Allowing one or both of the partners to answer your questions removes the pressure from them.
If you know a student feels anxious, give them a warning before choosing them. This will reduce the panic of a surprise question. For example you might say, “Kelly, I’m going to ask you for your idea straight after we speak to Beth.”
Good talking skills take time to develop. Model how students should talk to and listen to each other. Role play activities are great for practicing this.
Use simple resources to help students who may struggle. This will include learners with special educational needs or confidence issues.
You could use:
- Prompt question cards
- Pictures or diagrams to refer to
- Sentence starters for talking
- Example answers
- Key vocabulary sheets
- Templates for recording notes and ideas
Plan which groups you will work with during the activity. Some will need support to get started. Listening in to their conversation is a great way to assess understanding.
Common Problems with Think-Pair-Share
Students won’t automatically understand what you expect from them. It is important to train them first. Model communication skills such as eye contact and mirroring.
TPS won’t work if your questions are boring or too easy. Make sure they provide plenty of discussion and debate. Think about how long you will give each stage. Timings will be dependent on the depth of your questions.
If you find all your learners are just repeating what others have already said, consider giving each team a different question or a new angle to discuss. This can feed into a whole class discussion.
Think-Pair-Share in the Future
TPS is a wonderful teaching technique that can improve student engagement. But, like anything, if you do it too much your class will soon get bored. Look for alternative ideas to keep your class motivated and engaged.
Developments in interactive technology offer exciting new possibilities. TPS could be expanded beyond your classroom. Students could partner and collaborate with learners from other classes or different schools.
The benefits of TPS are clear. It boosts confidence and gets students involved in their own learning. Using TPS is a simple, hassle-free way to boost student engagement in your class. Have you tried it?