Think-Pair-Share is probably the most common learning strategy in my classroom, but before we move on from this post thinking we know how it really works, let’s pause and give it a read. I personally didn’t know what it really looked like until someone modeled it for me.

Think Phase

The think phase is probably the most commonly skipped phase of Think-Pair-Share, but it may be the most important. To begin, I tell the class that I want them to be completely silent for a certain amount of time (it’s usually 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on the depth of the problem we’re working on). Then, I pull out my phone, set a timer, and say, “ready, set, go.”

To ensure kids really do stay silent and think about the problem, I walk around the room during the entire timed period and motion to anyone who isn’t completely silent to stay quiet. This is actually one of the most consistent things I model throughout the first few weeks. The goal is to make this second nature for the kids after a couple weeks.

It’s crucial that students are actually quiet and thinking about the problem because every student needs time to think individually before moving on to group discussion. Many times, when we hear think-pair-share, we think it simply means kids working together on a problem. However, if students aren’t given a chance to think quietly, the pairing phase of this strategy is less effective because not as many kids will have time to think of something to input to the group. In addition, students are more likely to get off topic if the structured quiet time isn’t built in.

Pair Phase

After my phone timer goes off, I then release the groups to begin working together for another timed phase. I usually give 2 minutes. Most of the time, I allow students to work with their entire group of 4, but sometimes we switch it up and only work with a shoulder partner within each group.

While students are working together, I continue to walk around the room to monitor. However, this time I’m not just trying to make sure students are on task (although that’s part of it). Instead, I’m monitoring to see how the groups are progressing through the problem. This acts as an informal, formative assessment opportunity. Are all the groups getting the problem done easily? Is everyone stuck? Is it mixed? Are there common errors that I can discuss with the class? I’m making quick judgments to determine my next teacher move.

For example, if everyone is stuck, and talking is becoming unproductive, I’ll stop the pair phase and go over the problem for the entire class. If everyone finished quickly, and it seems that almost every group got the right answer, then I’ll move on without an explanation. If there are common errors, I’ll soon show you an example of what I may do next…

Share Phase

After my phone timer goes off, or if all the groups were completely stuck, I play a Mario sound to signal the end of the Pair phase. I stole this idea from Andrew Stadel (he used the same Mario sound to get the audience at his presentation to direct its focus back on him), and I love it because it’s a positive way to get student focus back on me. Instead of me having to say, “Eyes on me guys. Hey everyone up here. Come on guys get quiet!!,” I can save my voice, and students get trained to quickly end their conversations and come back to me.

After the Mario sound, we begin to share what happened in group discussions with the entire class. But it’s not a random sharing process. There’s still structure to it. First, I only allow the “reporter” for each group to be the talker for the group. The reporter is announced at the beginning of class based on the numbers written on each desk (see the pink dots below). For example, I may say, “Let’s have number 3’s be the talkers for their table today.”

Each group has numbers 1-4 on the desk, and each day, and new number is chosen to be the reporter for the group. This really helps get more voices heard in the class, prevent certain students from dominating conversation or answering all the questions, and gets me out of the habit of choosing the same kids every day.

So, during the share phase, I start to pick reporters from around the room to share ideas, strategies, or answers their group came up with. However, I never want a student to be put on the spot and embarrassed. Therefore, I consistently tell the reporters that they are always allowed to talk with their group again before sharing with the class and that what they’re about to say is a group answer and not their individual answer. This has helped take down cold call pressure.

Also, I’m not just randomly calling on reporters to share. Many times, the groups I’m calling on is strategic based on what I saw as I walked the room during the Pair phase. It’s sort of a mini 5 Practices move. If there were interesting strategies in certain groups, I’ll call on those groups. If there are ideas to debate, I’ll make sure those groups are called on. If there isn’t a ton of variation between groups, I’ll make sure to call on those who haven’t had a chance to participate yet.

Finally, if I noticed some common errors during the Pair phase, I’ll anonymously bring them to the front of the room to discuss. Here’s an example from earlier this year. I believe we were working on this problem.

As I walked around the room, I noticed 3 different equation setups for the problem throughout the room.

Only one of those set ups is correct, so I decided to play the Mario sound before students were done solving the problem in order to discuss. Next, I said, “I noticed some really good work that I’d like to highlight. I’m about to write 3 equation set ups on the board, 1 that is correct, and 2 that are good thinking, but not correct. Please don’t yell anything out as I write.” Then, I wrote the 3 setups on the board. Next, I had the students silently reflect on which setup was the correct one. After that, I had the students discuss with their groups for 30 seconds. Finally, I shared which one was correct, and we talked about the good thinking that went into the other setups. I talked about how it was possible the setups equal to 90 and 180 were related to what we learned the previous day. The goal is to correct errors without making anyone feel like they’re not good at math or silly for doing an incorrect set up.

When should we use Think-Pair-Share?

How often do we use this strategy? Are there some problems that align better with it than others? We’ll answer that in a future post about chunking a lesson.


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