Think-Pair-Share? Think again!

Think-pair-share is engaging. But does it improve learning?

Whether you teach at an elementary school or a medical school, you've probably heard of the instructional strategy, think-pair-share.

Here's how it typically works:

  1. Students think about a topic in response to a question or prompt

  2. Students pair up with another student and talk about their reflection

  3. Students share their thoughts in a larger class discussion

Simple, quick, and interactive – the trifecta for a valuable instructional strategy.

But wait! Does think-pair-share always boost learning? Read on for research-based tips on incorporating retrieval, spacing, and interleaving to make think-pair-share an even more powerful strategy in your classroom.

Want to think about more tips and research from cognitive science? Pair up with educators on Twitter and Facebook, and share your knowledge, too!

P.S. Thank you to many for sharing your feedback with us last week! We love feedback (and it increases learning, of course). If you haven't already, could you contribute your thoughts with our quick 5-question survey?


Transform Think-Pair-Share with Cognitive Science


Think-pair-share is a fantastic way to facilitate student engagement. But how can we ensure that students are learning during think-pair-share, instead of thinking about and sharing their favorite Netflix shows and plans for the weekend?

During think-pair-share, it's possible (or likely) that:

  • Not all students are engaged in thinking

  • Not all students are engaged in sharing

Or at least they're not always thinking and sharing course content. Here's where strategies based on cognitive science come in:

Retrieval: Engage every student by having them write down their response, rather than simply thinking about it. Here are additional retrieval recommendations:

  • Our Two Things strategy is an effective think-pair-share prompt.

  • Have students write down their response, switch papers to add so another student's paper, and then discuss. Students will have a richer discussion after receiving feedback in writing from another student first.

  • Have two pairs get together for think-pair-square in groups of four. This recommendation from Jennifer Gonzalez (more below) offers an additional opportunity for feedback. Be careful – students may start having side conversations, so it's important that the discussion prompt be very specific and action-oriented. For example, "discuss 3 ways in which X affected Y," rather than "how did X affect Y?"

Spacing: Ask students to think-pair-share about a previous course topic, not a prompt about what they're learning today. Here are additional spacing recommendations:

  • Ask about topics from the day before, the week before, or even from a different unit of material from the one you're covering now.

  • Challenge students to use spacing: ask them to think about a prior lesson and then discuss their reflection in pairs, followed by sharing (without you specifying the lesson for them). In this way, multiple topics from the past will be discussed and spaced, while providing ownership for students to think back and retrieve.

Interleaving: Mix it up by giving pairs two related topics to promote discrimination, rather than the providing one prompt about the same topic. Here are additional interleaving recommendations:

  • The key to interleaving is encouraging students to discriminate or choose between related topics, not simply mixing everything up. Provide a prompt for students to think-pair-share two related concepts and then discuss their similarities and differences. In other words, have them come up with the two related topics on their own, an added challenge from the instructor modeling it for them.

With each of these think-pair-share recommendations, you not only incorporate retrieval, spacing, and interleaving into the prompts you provide; you are creating opportunities for students to drive their own retrieval, spacing, and interleaving.

Let's make think-pair-share more powerful by integrating think-pair-share with strategies based on cognitive science. How are you incorporating retrieval, spacing, and interleaving with think-pair-share? Share your strategies in our comments below!


 Think-Pair-Share From The Cult of Pedagogy

We love the website, blog, podcast, and resources by our collaborator Jennifer Gonzalez and the Cult of Pedagogy. Learn about making Think-Pair-Share more powerful from two particular episodes: