Think, Pair, Share: a teachers guide

Paul Main

Think, Pair, Share is a powerful strategy for developing thoughtful discussions and individual students into confident learners.

What is think, pair, share?

Think-pair-share strategy (TPS) is a combined learning approach that provides opportunities for students to work together to solve a problem or answer a question about a certain subject. Though there may be guidelines for discussions, this strategy requires students to (1) think independently about a subject or answer a question; and (2) share their thoughts with classmates. Discussing with a student partner encourages involvement, focuses attention and engages students in comprehending the reading material.

It is also known as the ‘turn and talk’. TPS is one of the ways that teachers use to slow down the talking and give the students an opportunity to process their ideas before verbally responding. As described in 1982 by Frank Lyman, TPS is an active-learning technique in which students are inspired to participate even if they have little deep-down interest in the topic (Lyman, 1982; Marzano & Pickering, 2005). Learners not only process the topic but practice their communication and problem-solving skills. Preparation is not complicated and the execution of the same has shown success by increasing student involvement as well as improving students learning outcomes across learning settings. In this article, we will look at how this instructional strategy can challenge students academically as well as develop their discussion techniques.

Why think-pair-share should be encouraged

As well as providing insights into student thinking, any activity that involves individual students articulating their ideas verbally enables children to rehearse what they are going to write. This Oracy technique can reduce any student anxiety about speaking publicly. An active-learning strategy like think, pair, share  provides a wealth of benefits to individual students:

  • It helps students to think independently about how to a question.
  • It encourages responsive classroom discussion
  • It teaches students to share ideas with classmates and builds language skills.
  • It centralizes attention to key content concepts and helps students in comprehending the reading material.
  • There is mainstreaming digest of the text to be read and prompts target key content concepts.
  • It defines the purpose of the strategy and provides guidelines for discussions.
  • It models the process to ensure that students apprehend how to use the strategy.
  • It builds student self-assurance and student collaboration;
  • It provides a much-needed pen break,
  • It helps flip students from passive to active learners.


Getting started with think, pair, share

Some educators can be apprehensive about using dialogic teaching methods in the classroom, potentially, this might lead to the creation of chaotic learning environments that we all want to avoid. Utilising this simple strategy can be a lot easier than many teachers think. We encourage the adoption of talk guidelines in classrooms and professional learning opportunities for staff. So how can we start using this powerful strategy?

Observe and direct students as they work through the following:

T: (Think) Teachers begin by asking precise but open-ended questions about the text. Students "think" about what they have learned about the topic.

P: (Pair) Each student should be joined up with another student or a small group.

S: (Share) a good opportunity for students to speak their thoughts to their partners. Teachers expand the "share" into a whole-class discussion through student engagement.


Application of TPS

  • As a teacher, you have to describe what TPS is all about to your students. Tell them why it is important to use students time to lean about TPS and (how it helps learning) and acknowledge that it may be out of a student’s comfort zone to participate.
  • Pose an open-ended question for students to answer and ask them to write down their thoughts. Otherwise, have students turn in a copy of their thoughts prior to pairing.
  • Ask them to share with their partners (groups of 2 or 3 only) and share their thought process/answer with their partners. Alternatively – have students take notes on their partner’s feedback.
  • Let students know how they should be spending their time throughout: Let them know it is time they should be switching who is talking if they haven’t already, let them know when they should be finishing up their thoughts.
  • Prompt students to report out on “behalf” of their group. There could be differences in thought process and whether or not the group settled for something common.

Using the block-building method for promoting small-group discussions
Using the block-building method for promoting small-group discussions


Common questions about think, pair, share

My students are not talking to each other, how do I get them to start talking and engage in the activity?  For the sake of the quieter students, add an incentive (points for participation) or you could do an ice-breaker, indicate that these TPS questions could be on the exam, or demonstrate and practice what they should do. By reviewing the techniques within the starting conversations document more information could be found.

  • Discussion could go on for the entire class, how do we get back to the lecture?

It sounds like your students are well involved and that is something to celebrate. Share the strategy regulating the scope of the question and also putting time boundaries on the conversation can help. A quick, “one last point… this has been a useful conversation and it relates directly to ___”

How could I use TPS as an assessment?                    

Encourage your students to turn their responses written during the THINK time during the whole group discussions the group’s answer from the PAIR time or a reflection following the SHARE time. These can be considered low-stakes if graded for completion or something more substantial if you evaluate their responses in more depth.

I feel like I want to do more with the PAIR time, is it appropriate for students to use their phones and computers to answer questions?

TPS depends on how simple or complex you care to make it. If you want students to be able to use resources to look up something online or even go to the library to work on something, just be sure this resource is necessary and beneficial for the learning objective to whole-Group discussions.


This is an excellent example of a blank template that you can use with your students

Student’s name _____________________________________ Date______________


Read the following question or problem:


Individually, write down three thoughts you have about this question or problem:

  1. ____________________________________________________________________
  2. ___________________________________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________________________________


During class discussions, debate your ideas with your partner. Put a check by any ideas, above, that your

Partner also wrote down. Then, write down the concepts you had but your partner did not have

  1. _____________________________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________________ ________________


Evaluate all of your thoughts and circle the one you think is most significant. Choose amongst yourself the one to present

This idea with the whole class.

As you listen to the concepts of the whole group, write down three more ideas you that captivated you.


  1. _____________________________________________________________________
  2. ___________________________________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________________________________

Children having thoughtful discussions about grammar
Children having thoughtful discussions about grammar


Applying think, pair, share across subjects

  • Language Arts - Use think-pair-share during class discussions to deepen discussions about specific characters in books the class is reading together. For example, if the class is reading Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, try think-pair-share to respond to questions such as, "Should Juliet have gone ahead to love Romeo?’’ Either way, explain your answer.
  • Math-Try think-pair-share for math problems with more than one correct answer, such as logic, estimation and patterns, this strategy can also be used when students are deciding how to tackle a math problem.
  • Social Studies- Startup a think-pair-share discussion by asking a broad question on social skills relevant to a new subject of study, such as, "What do you already know about the world war 1?" As students get into more complex topics, you might ask questions such as, "Would you have agreed to be a 'stop' on the Underground railway? Why or why not?"
  • Science- Use think-pair-share to assist students to form hypotheses or discussing their interpretations of a class experiment. For example, before an experiment on density, students might be asked to use the think-pair-share strategy when deciding which items will float in a basin of water.

Instructional guidance when using TPS

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, students with learning disabilities, and younger learners. When creating pairs, be sensitive to learners' needs including the learning environment. (Attentional skills, language skills and reading skills). Allow students to decide for themselves who will share with the whole group.

As active - learning instructors, we must realize that we do not have to lecture in our classrooms all the time. To make the 60-minute class session interesting to the students as well as the presentation share sessions, you could structure your activities so that students are the ones owning their own learning and creating meaning altogether. Because of this, the way we use think-pair-share shifts from an opportunity for talk in the middle of a teacher-centric lesson to a discussion and processing strategy. You will notice how the students oral communication skills are developing, how their reading skills are advancing and positive changes to their social skills.

Sometime you may notice that students are reluctant to share out in an entire class setting, usually it is because of student anxiety as a result of:

  1. They’re scared their idea might not be ‘right’
  2. They imagine they may have not had the time to process their ideas.
  3. They haven’t read the text they are discussing.

Engaging staff with oracy professional development
Engaging staff with oracy professional development

Opportunities for think, pair, share

Standard-Issue Think Pair Share

This approach will be paired with a quick bullet list, journaling or question to ask the group. Other times, just thinking is enough. After personal processing has been completed, the teacher will challenge students to pair up with a partner to discuss their individual thinking.


This is usually just a quick exchange of insights into student thinking before a share out with the whole class or small table group, but it’s helpful to also have the partners write down a thought to share with the class. This can be the best insight into students, a stimulating question, something to show the result of their partnership.  It’s also significant to note that this strategy gradually folds in more expressions and ideas so that prompt for student participation and thinking is supported. This is also a great way to distinguish students who may need more processing time because all students can profit from this strategy.

Think Pair Share Strategy Ideas

Here are some ways that you might digress from the standard version of think pair share, in no particular order. Some add variety in terms of who a student choice may be. Others add diversity in terms of the structure of what’s ahead.

Snowball TPS

In this technique, students begin with individual concepts, then pair with a classmate to discuss. Here’s where the difference begins. Instead of hopping right from partner to full group sharing, try having two pairs of student’s team up for an extended pairing. Then, groups of four to group of eight, until students become one big group for sharing of ideas.

TPS Homework Edition

Instead of completing the think pair share activity in class, it may be useful to have students do their thinking for homework (about a specific text, topic, and/or question) so that they’re prepared to pair (discussion prep) and share (actual discussion) to start class the next day. The first thing to do when they come back is to check for an understanding of the Common goal of TPS.

Pad let Pair Share

For individual thinking, students will create individual Padlet posts. Then, for the paired discussion, students will look for trends and patterns in the responses so that they can draw conclusions. Then, the class can debrief and process together.

Flip grid Pair Share

Have students record individual responses in this option then watch and respond to other students for conceptual understanding or have students think individually, then pair-share two related concepts with a partner to record a Flip grid conversation before watching and responding to other paired conversations.

Randomize Partners

To warrant that students have a variety of partners to talk with, you may want to randomize student groupings using a partner wheel or by giving students each a playing card when they walk into the room. This ensures a good academic environment that is non-partial. You can call out groupings this way: black vs. red, odds and even together, similar clothes, etc.

Concluding thoughts about think, pair, share

No matter the level of experience we have as teachers, or how many students we might have taught, bodies of evidence conclude that the think-pair-share method is an excellent way to introduce subjects, increase understanding, facilitate discussion and show how it relates to a subject. This widely used teaching technique encourages students to come up with their own ideas and then share and present them. It has been known to increase skills such as critical thinking, listening, and presentation as additional evidence that TPS is indeed a beneficial assessment tool.