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How to Use Think-Pair-Share to Increase Student Engagement
Judi Fenton

Think back to your own experience as a student; when were you most engaged? Was it when you were talking or when you were listening to others talk? 

In a typical classroom a teachers asks a question and a few students raise their hands to answer it. The teacher calls on a student, the rest put their hands down as the called-upon student answers. The teacher asks another question.  Several students raise their hands (most likely it’s the same students who raised their hands to answer the previous question), the teacher calls on another student who answers the question.  Sometimes the teacher will call on a student who does not have a hand raised. Often he or she will stare at us blankly until we call on another student to “help” him or her. This process continues until the teacher sends the class off to do an activity related to the lesson.

We have absolutely no idea what is going on with those students who are not raising their hands to answer. Do they have a response of their own and they’re just too shy to offer it in front of the entire class? Do they understand the question (or the lesson)? Are they worrying about the test next period? Are they thinking about what they’ll eat for lunch?

There are definitely some ways for us to create opportunities for those students to engage and actively participate in the learning at hand. One strategy is by using Think-Pair-Share. The classic way to use this strategy is to ask a question (as in the above example), but instead of expecting students to raise their hands, tell them think for a moment (maybe jot down some thoughts) and then share their answer with a partner.  This gives students the opportunity to clarify their own thinking and then share with one other student in a less public way.  It also communicates to them that you expect active participation and know that every one of them has answers and thoughts to share. 

After they have had  time to work together, you can ask individual students, or pairs together, to share with the entire class. When students share combined thinking, they put themselves at less risk to “fail” in front of their peers. They will feel more confident in offering the ideas of their pair, as opposed to their individual answers.  We can now call on anyone and be relatively sure that they will have a response ready.

An additional benefit of using this strategy is that it assists students in developing and clarifying their own thinking about a topic.  Most of us learn through social interaction, and talking about what we are learning. Giving our students multiple opportunities to interact with each other and with the topic can only serve to solidify and broaden their understanding of the content we want them to learn.

Teachers are always hoping to create a learning community in their classrooms. When we mix up the pairs, having different students think, discuss, and share with each other, the community is strengthened.  It’s surprising how much payback there can be from using this one small strategy in the classroom!

Do you have a comment about this article? E-mail me!


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