One simple tool every teacher should have in their toolbox

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Recently while giving a teacher development workshop I was surprised to learn how many in the audience were unfamiliar with the old standby “think-pair-share.” If there is one simple, effective, and easy to implement technique that applies to virtually any educational context, the think-pair-share (TPS) is it. Every teacher should have this in their toolbox.

What Is It?

The basic TPS involves an instructor posing some form of open-ended question and then asking students to “pair up” in order to answer it. For example, a teacher might begin a class with a socratic question like “what makes someone a citizen?” and then ask pairs of students to talk with each other. At the end of a specified time, the facilitator may ask for report-outs on what was discussed or may simply move on to direct instruction or another activity.

Why Is It Effective?

The TPS is so effective because it is so simple. You can TPS in a large lecture hall. You can TPS in a small seminar. STEM faculty can use it with problem sets or concepts you want to ensure students have time to wrestle with and understand. Humanities teachers can use it to work through a section of text or to deconstruct an argument. By having students talk with each other, the teacher facilitates more discussion along the lines of what educator Deb Meier wrote when she said “teaching is listening and learning is talking.” And, by practicing with each other, students tend to feel more comfortable speaking out in the larger group. A teacher can help facilitate this by asking pairs of students to summarize what they talked about. Rather than calling out a specific student, this method enables a student to say, “well, we discussed how…”

What Are Some Variations?

TPS can be done individually first, by having students reflect first on a note card or in their notebooks before sharing with a partner. Or, you could do a TPS Progression where you begin in pairs and then have the pairs join up with another pair to form groups of 4. Or, you could do a TPS progression where students remain in pairs but switch partners after the first question and either answer the same question again or answer a different one. You can TPS right in the middle of a lecture to encourage reflection and check for understanding. You can TPS at the beginning of a seminar to get students warmed up. You can TPS at the end of class as a form of review where the pair generates a ticket out the door based on a prompt (e.g. “what is one key concept you took away from this class and one question you still have remaining?”).

I could go on and on about TPS. In my 25 years of teaching experience, it is one of the most simple and effective forms of active learning I know. It requires minimal to no training, no additional expenses, and no technology or extra equipment (although using TPS on-line is also totally doable). For those of you for whom this is a new tool, try it out.  For those of you that already use TPS, what great variations work for you? 

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