PLAs #4 – Think, Pair, Share (TPS)

by / Wednesday, 27 May 2020 / Published in Instruction, PLAs

Think-Pair-Share (TPS) is the Swiss Army Knife of activities.  This can, and should, be used often in your class.

In the first step, because learners need time to process information on their own, you need to allot some time for them to think about your challenge. It can be a one-minute thinking period, or it can be much longer, all depending on what they are thinking about. Given them this quiet time to work on their thinking skills. This takes practice, but if you use TPS often, it will quickly become a routine part of class.

The next step is crucial, and something that you will need to push yourself to do, as most instructors want immediate answers from their learners. Give them time, then, to pair up with someone else, and share their thoughts…whether it’s a single peer, or better, in a small group of three or four. You might have them do this several times in one class period, so they work on refining their responses. This also allows for full class participation at all times, and your have the luxury of joining smaller groups and doing more specialised, just-in-time instruction and formative feedback.

The final step is to do what is most traditional: have learners share what their discussions were about in front of the entire class. This is actually a bit different from the old teacher-student, teacher-student, teacher-student exchange from the days of yore. In the share part, learners are summarising their group discussions, which of course lowers their affective filters. There’s less fear if a learner response is what their group said. They are committed to answers that are shared among several peers.

Your main job at this point is to paraphrase their answers and check with other learners and their groups, to see let them evaluate their peers’ responses.

The illustration here shows many different ways to configure each of the three stages in TPS, and suggests several other variations on the theme. This can and should be one of the most used and reconfigurable participatory learning activities that you can do in your class, and it will yield higher intrinsic motivation, deeper learning responses, and a more reflective student population showing higher order critical thinking and creative skills, which is, of course, what we are all aiming for with our learners.



Name: Think-Pair-Share

Activity type: Discussion after a period of reflection

HOTS: Learners enhance their critical thinking skills, group facilitation skills, and lower their affective filters.

Grouping: Best to start with ONES. Let every individual learner get a chance to reflect deeply on what they are learning before they move on to working with others.

Online tool: Breakout rooms in Zoom or Collaborate Ultra will facilitate this activity, and you can easily randomise the number of participants in each room, and repopulate them quickly and easily.

This is the Top Ten Participatory Learning Activities (PLAs) Series. Each week, Dr. Larry Davies describes PLAs that are effective to use online. Your use of these PLAs will foster better learning and higher motivation in your learners. Each PLA contains an illustration that contains four elements:

  • The name of the activity.
  • Which one of the four types the activity is (that’s the lightbulb), including,
    • Creative/critical thinking activity (inside the lightbulb, top left – the brain);
    • Small group conversational activity (bottom left – the speech bubbles);
    • Exit activity (given at the end of a lesson, unit, or project) (top right – the exit sign);
    • Timed activity (where learners are under pressure to complete it within minutes) (bottom left – the clock).
  • Whether it’s a Higher or Lower Order Thinking Skills Activity (HOTS or LOTS) (the HOTS/LOTS lever with “the pail”).
  • A suggested grouping to maximize the benefit of the activity (the circles arranged in many ways).

Also, the description will contain suggestions for one or more online tools you can use with the PLA.

Previous blogs in this series include:

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