In many college classrooms, collaboration and discussion are important components of student learning. However, large class sizes and an increasing number of distractions in the classroom can hold students back from fully engaging and participating in active learning and class discussion.

What do you do if your students are reluctant to raise their hands in a busy lecture hall? What if only a handful of a few very confident students actually participate in class discussions on a regular basis? This is counterproductive for two reasons. First, their thoughts and opinions carry a disproportionate weight in these classroom conversations, and second, the other students are able to easily tune the discussion out, allowing these few students do the heavy lifting in class discussion.

Enter think-pair-share: the easy-to-implement teaching strategy that gets your students to voice their thoughts and ideas, even if they’re not fully developed.

So What Really is Think-Pair-Share?

Think-pair-share is an active learning technique that is one of the better-known instructional strategies. After presenting course material in class, professors are encouraged to pause the lecture for a moment to ask students to pair up with a partner or in a small group and have them discuss the material they just learned. Then, professors ask the pairs and small groups pre-prepared questions. Once they’ve had some time to discuss with their partners, students can take turns presenting their observations to the rest of the class, if this is reasonable given the size of the class.

Ideally, questions should be challenging, so that they can spark debate between the grouped or paired students and provide them with a significant amount of material to unpack and discuss. Give students a few minutes to discuss possible solutions amongst themselves and come to a collective conclusion.

What’s So Great about Think-Pair-Share?

It breaks learning material into smaller pieces. There is a limit to the amount of information students can process at one time. In order for students to learn and understand course material, they need to interact with it. Think-pair-share allows students to flip course material upside-down and inside out to gain a better understanding, on their own terms.

It’s something new and exciting. In large college lecture halls, students rarely have the chance to engage and collaborate with their peers. This novelty makes course content more memorable, and more likely to be retained.

It’s simple and straightforward to implement. Think-pair-share doesn’t require a professor to prepare any additional materials prior to class time, meaning that it can be added in in the middle of a class period when a lesson needs to be livened up or students need a refresher on past learnings.

It breaks pace. Think-pair-share gets students out of their listening mode and into talking. Processing the information verbally helps create new pathways for learning it.

Inside the Digital Classroom

Students are human, and can sometimes be distracted by their surroundings and stray off-task. In the noise of a group discussion, the professor cannot monitor each group of students and it is possible for them to stray off-topic. Asking students to quickly write their thoughts down holds each student more accountable than when discussion is used alone.

Completion and understanding of the task is much easier when technology is deployed. Students tend to engage well with the idea of using the devices and platforms they use in their daily lives in the classroom as well.

When students share with the class, particularly if they are sharing their partner or group member’s thoughts and ideas, they are given the opportunity to think about course concepts through a different lens. Incorporating technology into the think-pair-share process streamlines the process for today’s digital native college students.

Think-pair-share works especially well for the first few lectures of the semester because it keeps students on their toes and interested in the material that is to come. But it can also help regain student enthusiasm near the middle of the semester and reminding students that they aren’t alone in their learning and that others share their views or concerns. This strategy can also help students develop empathy and reach the understanding that there are different perspectives to support an issue that are worth considering beyond their own.