On Monday, we looked at student presentations as an activity to engage learners. Today, the activity we want to cover is Think-Pair-Share. Let’s look at:

  • What think-pair-share is
  • How it can be used in teaching
  • Some variations to think-pair-share
  • The benefits
  • And how this can be used online as an alternative to face-to-face teaching
What is Think-Pair-Share?

The Think-Pair-Share is a teaching method designed by Frank Lyman in the 1980s.

Think-Pair-Share is where the teacher creates an activity where students must think about something, pair up with another student and share their viewpoint or experience.

It might be the teacher asks all learners the same question. Or, the teacher asks learners to create a drawing. Or it could be a problem-based activity.

Basically, engage learners in thinking (Think).

Match students with other students (Pair).

Lastly, ask students to share their thinking with another student (Share).

How can it be used?

It is important to actively involve students in the learning process. Create opportunities or tasks where learners must think about their ideas and knowledge, then engage in discussion. By doing practical tasks, i.e., linking physical activity with cognitive tasks, this can significantly help foster the learning process.

Think-Pair-Share engages learners, both with content and fellow students.

When using pairs of students, the time individuals had for the thinking part allowed students to apply their own thoughts and knowledge to the question or problem posed. The sharing part of the task offers opportunity to receive peer feedback whilst either validating or defending ideas. These actions allow for increased learning and retention of knowledge.

Credit: Jake Young
Credit: Jake Young
Variations to Think-Pair-Share

Depending on class numbers and time limits, why not consider a few Think-Pair-Share variations?

The above example of Think-Pair-Share is a basic two-student activity where the task is the same for both students. Let’s have a look at variations and how this can be scaled up.

Variation 1 – differentiated tasks

It might be learners are paired and each student is asked a slightly different question. For example, in medicine, one student might be asked to highlight the main symptoms of diabetes, and the other, to highlight the main symptoms of hypoglycaemia. A few minutes thinking time is fine.

Ask both students to compare the symptoms of the two conditions. The aim is to find out the differences and similarities of diabetes and hypoglycaemia. Students might be surprised to find an overlap in symptoms. And, they will be able to list symptoms specific to both, thus helping them learn about different medical conditions and diagnosis.

Credit: Nikita Kachanovsky
Credit: Nikita Kachanovsky
Variation 2 – Think-Pair-Square-Share

Another variation of Think-Pair-Share is group work. Task groups of students with a question. Give a few minutes thinking and discussion time to each group. Then pair groups and ask the students to discuss their thoughts and share their findings more widely.

Credit: Vlad Hilitanu
Credit: Vlad Hilitanu
Variation 3 – Sticky note storm

This activity is a variation of Think-Pair-Share. It is great for brainstorming and reviewing ideas. It’s collaborative, time limited and free flowing.

A group of students can sit around a desk with post-it notes. The teacher can pose a question, i.e., for hospitality or marketing, list as many themes for a new restaurant as possible. Students need to list one idea per post-note and stick it to the centre of the table. Each question is a one minute task.

Here, the aim is to get creative and generate as many ideas as possible within the group. At the end of each task, students review the ideas. This could be further broken down to specific food choices, i.e., vegan, vegetarian, continental, etc.

How does it work?

It uses two principles:

Metacognition. Students have to think about how they think.

Peer learning. Studies have shown students learn more effectively when they share their thoughts with peers. By discussing ideas, this helps define ideas and thinking.

Credit: Margarida Afonso
Credit: Margarida Afonso
Who benefits from Think-Pair-Share activities?

Teachers can differentiate tasks whilst providing students with think time. Students can prepare their ideas for sharing with a peer. As a learning strategy, Think-Pair-Share promotes student participation through encouraging higher levels of student response.

It’s not an activity where the teacher asks a question and one student responds. Think-Pair-Share is more inclusive. Furthermore, this activity offers all students the opportunity to share their thinking with at least one other student. This engages quieter and/or shy students in the group. This, in turn, increases each students’ sense of involvement in their learning.

The disadvantage for quieter students, albeit they can consider their thoughts. The more dominant student in the pair may monopolize the ‘share’ time.

Think-Pair-Share online

The above examples all work very well in-class, but how can this task be delivered online?

If you currently cannot teach face-to-face, encourage students to use breakout rooms (Zoom) or channels (MS Teams). This gives students a space to pair up, think about tasks and share their thoughts. In Zoom, students will have to be moved by the host to the breakout rooms.

These breakout areas can be for any number of students. It’s just a matter of instructing students how to engage online. For example, when it comes to Think-Pair-Square-Share (group work), direct students to merge with another groups digital space for the Pair-Share activity. This will be through open channels in MS Teams. Students can simply join another open channel. In Zoom, students need to be moved by the host to another digital space.

How can we whip up a digital sticky note storm? At Queen’s University, all staff and students have Office 365. O365 has many apps that can be used online and offer collaborative work. In this instance, it might be more a text storm than a sticky note storm. However, using Word online, a link for the document can be shared with students for the one-minute task of listing ideas or thoughts around a question or problem. Answers can be typed up on the shared Word doc.

Credit: Markus Winkler
Credit: Markus Winkler

Another option for the sticky note storm, the teacher can use open education resources to create a virtual wall. Students can contribute with their ideas. This is anonymous. Virtual walls, such as Padlet, allow for a range of layouts and multimedia types that can be shared.

Regardless of how ideas are shared digitally, both resources (Word online and Padlet) can be viewed online by students and discussed during a live online teaching session. This encourages discussion.


Think-Pair-Share certainly gets students interacting with content and with at least one other student in the classroom. It involves students in their learning. These activities can be a few minutes in length with information shared with one student and/or fed back to the whole class.

There are different variations of Think-Pair-Share that can be used. Which option you decide upon is affected by class size and time available. It might be paired students or groups of 3 – 5. This group number will double in the Pair-Share space.

It doesn’t matter if you teach face-to-face or online. Think-Pair-Share can be used with both audiences. If, however, the teacher finds themselves teaching an in-class and online audience simultaneously, do pair/group face-to-face students with other face-to-face students and the same for online members.

If there is more time available and fewer students in the whole class, you can encourage paired students to complete the activity and it doesn’t matter where the students are located, i.e., in class or online.

Credit: Jason Strull
Credit: Jason Strull
Next time

Friday sees the last post for this series on the Teaching Toolkit for Engagement. By then, you should have gathered nine active-teaching activities you can use in your teaching.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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