Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy

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What Is It?

The think, pair, share strategy is a cooperative learning technique that encourages individual participation and is applicable across all grade levels and class sizes. Students think through questions using three distinct steps:

  1. Think: Students think independently about the question that has been posed, forming ideas of their own.

  2. Pair: Students are grouped in pairs to discuss their thoughts. This step allows students to articulate their ideas and to consider those of others.

  3. Share: Student pairs share their ideas with a larger group, such as the whole class. Often, students are more comfortable presenting ideas to a group with the support of a partner. In addition, students' ideas have become more refined through this three-step process.

Why Is It Important?

Students need many opportunities to talk in a linguistically rich environment. Researchers have found that students' learning is enhanced when they have many opportunities to elaborate on ideas through talk (Pressley 1992).

The think, pair, share strategy increases the kinds of personal communications that are necessary for students to internally process, organize, and retain ideas (Pimm 1987).

In sharing their ideas, students take ownership of their learning and negotiate meanings rather than rely solely on the teacher's authority (Cobb et al. 1991).

Additional benefits of using the think, pair, share strategy include the positive changes in students' self-esteem that occur when they listen to one another and respect others' ideas. Students have the opportunity to learn higher-level thinking skills from their peers, gain the extra time or prompting they may need, and gain confidence when reporting ideas to the whole class. In addition, the "pair" step of the strategy ensures that no student is left out of the discussion. Even a student who is uncomfortable discussing his or her ideas with the whole class still has an audience in this step. Finally, while the strategy may appear to be time-consuming, it makes classroom discussions more productive, as students have already had an opportunity to think about their ideas before plunging into whole-class conversations.

How Can You Make It Happen?

The think, pair, share strategy is ideal for teachers and students who are new to collaborative learning. It can be used in a variety of contexts. However, to be effective, students must consider a question or issue. It could be a complex question, such as, "What do you think were the key issues that led to World War I?" It could be a more straightforward request, such as, "Create a pattern that could be described as 'a, b, a, b.'"

As students consider the question or issue, they should derive some benefit from thinking about it further with partners, such as when there are multiple correct answers to a question. For instance, in the previous example, students could provide many examples of "a, b, a, b" patterns and seeing multiple answers will reinforce this concept. On the other hand, providing students with questions that have only one correct response, such as, "What is 5 + 2?" soon becomes tedious to students, as there is not much to share with partners or the whole class.

The "think" step may require students merely to be quiet for a few moments and ponder their thoughts about the question. They may write some thoughts in response to the question.

Some teachers find it helpful to set a time limit for the "think" and "pair" steps of the strategy. If you choose to do this, be sure to give students an idea of how much time they will have. Remember to allow sufficient time during the "pair" step to allow both students to talk about their thoughts.

In the "share" step of the strategy, students can share their ideas in several ways. One way is to have all students stand, and after each student responds, he or she sits down, as does any student with a similar response. This continues until everyone is seated. Another way is to move quickly through the class, having students respond quickly, one after the other, or to have a class vote. Responses can be recorded on an overhead projector or on a graphic organizer for future discussions. Another variation is to stop after the "pair" step, and have students write their ideas. Collect students' responses and assess any problems in understanding.

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