How effective are you at using one of the most-used teaching techniques in the world?
All teachers are familiar with the pedagogical technique: Think, pair, share. However, just using this strategy can lead to ineffective teaching and learning.
Let me provide you with two scenarios to consider explaining how you might use and introduce think, pair, share.
Scenario 1: Think, Pair, Share
In scenario one, the teacher does the following.
Teacher: ‘Okay, year 7s. I’ve got a question for you. “Where is Mount Vesuvius?”
Student(s): One pupil immediately whispers the answer. Another 5 or 6 pupils raise their hands and begin to stretch for the ceiling, groaning and waving for attention. ‘Ask me, please. Ask me!’
Teacher: The teacher now realises they have framed the question very poorly.
Students sitting closest to this ‘whispering individual’ now get a sense of the correct answer (or not), and more hands start to wave and gesture.
Teacher: “Okay, everyone. Put your hands down; don’t call out! …”
The teacher decides to move on quickly:
Teacher: “Ross, what is the answer? Where is Mount Vesuvius?”
Student: ‘Sir, is it in Italy?’
Teacher: ‘Yes, good’ and either picks up on more detail or proceeds with the lesson after using one pupil to say the answer aloud.
Because the teacher has not prepared students to recall, this leads to one or two individuals responding and disrupting the processing/thinking of everyone else.
Failing to frame ‘how to respond’ is ineffective teaching. Asking one rather than 30 students is also, highly ineffective!
Scenario 2: Think, Pair, Share, Show Me!
Here’s think-pair-share – with ‘show me’ attached – as a more efficient scenario to consider when using the strategy.
Teacher: The teacher frames the expectations first, even before any mention of a question is suggested.
‘Okay, year 7s. I’d like you to find a board pen to write with and your mini-whiteboard (MWBs). I am going to pose a question to you. I want everyone to be ready to answer; you cannot call out, and you cannot raise your hands. You must spend at least 5 seconds thinking about what I’ve said.’ [Long pause] ‘Right, here it is: “Where is Mount Vesuvius? What town did it destroy in 79AD?”
The teacher offers a non-verbal signal by placing their forefinger over their lips to connotate ‘no talking’. For one or two students who raise their hands, without talking, the teacher lifts their hands and ‘waves downwards’ to suggest to students to put down their hands.
All this data within 5 seconds!
The students have not spoken and have been given essential ‘thinking time’.
Teacher: “Okay,” says the teacher. “Now, without talking, I’d like you to think about your answer once more. Even if it’s wrong, I want you to ‘show me’ that you have thought about my question.”
The students have still not spoken, disrupted the lesson, or had a chance to say the answer.
Teacher: “Right, now that you have had a moment to think about the answer to my question. You have 10 seconds to pair up with your partner and say aloud your answer to one another.”
Students: The classroom lights up with all students talking about the question. The teacher quickly scans the room to see that all students are participating and can do any microsecond interventions for any students off-task.
Teacher: “5-4-3-2… 1.” The teacher offers a routine countdown, and the students stop talking.
The classroom is silent – the teacher reminds the students of the process.
Teacher: ‘Now, everyone. You have all had a moment to think about my question. I’ve asked you to think about it first, and then you have had some time to share it with your partner. Next, when I say ‘Go’, I would like you to take your whiteboard and board pen and write down your answer before I shout “Show me.” … You all need to ensure your whiteboard faces me at the front. Ready?’
The teacher waits for students to settle. A non-verbal reminder to students that the teacher is in charge despite the increase in excitement.
Teacher: “Okay. go!”
Students: The students take their board pen and begin to write their responses on the whiteboard. During this time, the teacher scans the room for interventions and interrupts the process 10 seconds later with another “5-4-3-2-1” countdown.
Teacher: “Okay, show me!” the teacher shouts.
There is a high buzz in the room, and the teacher supports this stage with non-verbal signals: Lifted eyebrows, waving upwards to suggest to some students to lift their whiteboards…
Many teachers will be able to picture this scene. The question is, do you fall into the scenario one trap, or consciously use scenario two as a routine?
Tweaking what you already do!
All teachers use the think-pair-share methodology; however, we often default to the ineffective process of doing think-pair-share in scenario one. As described in scenario two, the process of pausing to allow students to decode what has been said is critical.
The pause allows students to process during this thinking time without any interruptions.
Plus, using the recommendations from cognitive science regarding retrieval practice (write it down, say it out aloud) is a more effective way to support learning that all teachers should use.
Adding in the ‘think it through’ stage first, forcing a period of silent reflection, followed by a ‘write it down’ before ‘saying it out loud’ is an effective model for teaching. Insisting that all students ‘show me’ at the end, makes a simple teaching technique super efficient. Doing so ensures that the teacher receives a much larger response and increases the success rate. By using ‘Show me!’ it makes thinking more concrete.
Think, pair, share now show me(!) is a much more beneficial process for everyone. It aids student retention and the teacher’s observational assessment at the moment. Rather than quizzing one student, be more efficient and effective = quiz everyone for a reply!