October 20, 2014

The Powerful Pair Share

Here is one of my best tools for teaching: The Pair Share.

Most people learn well when they have a chance to verbally share and process new information. While it would be nice if they could share and process new learning with the instructor, this isn’t always realistic. Enter The Powerful Pair Share. There are many ways to use it.

Suppose I’m about to give a lesson on the movement of the sun with my class of 30 students, and I want to get my students primed for the lesson. I could start the lesson with a question like, “What do you know about the sun?” I don’t want just 2-3 students to think about it– I want all of them to think about it and answer it. So instead of calling on the few hands that are up, I say, “Turn to the person next to you and share what you know about the sun.” All the kids turn to their elbow partners and start talking.

After a few moments, I call out, “Knees to me, 1… 2… 3!” By the time I get to three, they all turn back and are ready for me to continue. They know the drill.

As the lesson continues, I want my students to make a prediction about which direction the sun will move from our perspective. Instead of having them just guess in their heads– which some will do, some won’t, and others might be confused about– I have them turn again to a partner and share their predictions. Now the prediction has been stated, it’s tangible, and it’s out there. Every one of them has stated a prediction. They will be that much more interested in seeing what happens next. If they had kept the prediction in their heads and not had a chance to say it out loud to someone, it wouldn’t mean as much and they would probably not be as motivated to learn the answer.

I continue peppering in pair-shares throughout the lesson. Sometimes, it’s to get them thinking. Sometimes, it’s to give them a chance to chat, because sometimes it’s hard to be totally quiet for such a long stretch of time. Sometimes, it’s because I have way too many eager hands that want to answer and I just can’t get to them all, but I want them all to be able to share it with someone. As you can see, there are many ways to use the pair share! I love this tool because it is efficient, effective, engaging, and enjoyable.

The Pair Share is Efficient

It’s good to pose questions to your students while you teach. It’s good to get them thinking. It’s great when students raise their hands and want to participate, but sometimes you just can’t get all of those responses in! There isn’t enough time to actually hear from all thirty kids every time and get the lesson done. Instead of calling on just five students and leaving the other 25 out, use the pair share. This way, all 30 of your students will be engaged in either listening or speaking (hopefully both). They will all have the opportunity to share their thoughts and hear from someone else, and this can all be done in the same time it would have taken two students to share out loud with the class. It’s very time-efficient.

The Pair Share is Effective

Maybe you have a question that you want everyone thinking about, but only a couple of students are raising their hands to actually answer. This doesn’t mean the other kids aren’t engaged. They might just be unsure of their answer and/or too shy to say it in front of the class. Maybe they have budding thoughts, but haven’t quite fleshed it out. Use the pair share to get everyone thinking, processing, and talking. Speaking out in front of the class can be incredibly intimidating for a lot of students, but speaking in pairs is manageable for most students. Once students have shared in pairs, more kids will be ready to answer in front of the entire class. They have already done a practice run with the person next to them, and now they have a better idea of what to say.

The Pair Share is Engaging

When students know they will be asked to share their thoughts with a partner, they will stay more engaged while you are talking. They know they will have to provide some sort of response to someone, so they focus more so they can have a useful and thoughtful answer. There’s no point in teaching if your students are not going to be engaged and learning, so use this strategy to encourage them to stay focused and engaged!

You can also break up the monotony of a lecture by peppering in pair-shares throughout a lesson, which helps keep students refreshed and engaged. They can be quick, short things, “Turn to the person next to you and tell them what the next step is.” It gets everyone thinking about the next step, keeps them engaged in the process, and wakes them up a little if you feel that your lesson is dragging.

The Pair Share is Enjoyable

For most people, it’s fun to be engaged with someone else and to talk with them as you are learning. It can be a little scary to talk to a whole group, but talking with a friend nearby can be enjoyable. If you’re about to read a story to the class and you want kids to connect the story to their own experiences, start it off with a pair share! Suppose the story is about a kid who goes on his first plane trip. Ask your students to think of a time they traveled somewhere, and then have them share about that experience with their partner. They love sharing their experiences with each other, and it also primes them all for the story to come. Win-win.

I hope I’ve convinced you that in a teaching setting, having the students share in pairs is a great tool. Sometimes, I have my student pairs set up ahead of time. For example, they have assigned seats and pairs when we are seated at the carpet. When I say, “Turn to your partner and…” they know exactly who to turn to and get right to it. At their table groups, I say, “Find a partner…” and the students know to turn to someone next to them and start talking. (I’m also okay with them sharing in a group of 3 if their table has an odd number of students.)

I seriously can’t imagine teaching without using this tool, so if you haven’t tried it yet, teach your children appropriate pair-share protocol (turn your shoulders to face each other, take turns with who goes first, comment on what they say before jumping into your own sharing, etc.), and see how it works for your students!


P.S. Using this in a small group setting, like at church

In a church small group setting, this can also be very useful. The pair share touches on two things we frequently run into: silence, and running out of time.

Sometimes, discussion in a small group can stall and the silence can be pretty heavy and awkward. Personally, I think silence has a place and can be very useful– a quiet time of reflecting, thinking, and processing. But sometimes, it really does just seem like no one wants to be the first to step out and break that silence, and it’s awkward for everyone. In this situation, you can use the pair-share. Take your question, and ask people to talk to the person next to them and answer it. Suddenly, the room will be alive and buzzing with conversation.

What a relief.

Once you gather the group back together, you can pose the same question and people will be more ready to share– partly because they just did a practice run with the person next to them, and partly because you can always say, “Hey, I know you guys have things to share– you all just shared with the person next to you!” And usually that’s enough to get people going.

As for running out of time, the pair share is useful because like I stated earlier, it’s efficient. We frequently want people to process new understandings and apply it to their lives and share that application with others. What better way than to talk about it? However, if there are 10 people in your small group and each person spends 3-5 minutes sharing how they hope to apply something, this is suddenly an extra 30+ minutes added to your small group time. If you’re running short on time, have people break into pairs to share instead of sharing out with the whole group. While not everyone gets to hear everyone else’s thoughts, at least everybody gets to share with someone!

2 responses to “The Powerful Pair Share”

  1. Elizabeth Zirkle says:

    Do you have problems with chatty kids taking the share pair opportunity to talk about something else? How do you know? What happens to the nose level in the class?
    What about the «gasp» boys having to talk to girls issue?
    Ideally, this should prepare students to work together on projects, right? My daughter is in 10th grade, and they STILL have all the issues above, plus the occasional truculent teenager to deal with.

    • joellen says:

      I’ve noticed that students go off topic very rarely. When I assign pairs, I usually do it by reading level, so the two students are not necessarily friends, and probably don’t have as much to talk about outside of whatever I tell them to talk about.

      As for the noise level… it goes up for a minute or two, like a noisy room of chatters (but not so loud that it’s bothersome). When I call their attention back, it’s quiet again.

      Maybe it’s because my students are younger, but most of them don’t seem to mind talking to partners that are the opposite gender. Now that I think of it, I guess I did use my intuition to pair the very shy girls/boys with people they’d be more comfortable chatting with, which usually ended up being a friend and/or someone the same gender as them.

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