Pair and Share

An easily acceptable, stress-free activity where students consider a question individually, discuss with neighbor students, and share with a larger group in order to stimulate a class discussion. This activity can also be called a Think-Pair-Share. 


Prepare a question
  • Target the question or prompt towards the learning objectives. Pair and Share works particularly well if you have a topic that you want to address specifically, or one that students tend to believe they know well but really do not


    Is your question a good one? Check your question to make sure that:
    • It is open-ended;
    • It will generate reasoning and analysis, but is not overly complicated;
    • It will help draw students’ attention to key aspects of the new concept you will teach, or assess students; understanding of previous knowledge


Introduce the activity
  • Sample Script: Now we will have a discussion about [insert topic]. Before our discussion, I want each one of you to spend a couple of minutes on your own working on the question I’m going to give you. You will then have the opportunity to talk with your neighbor and discuss. You may take notes, and you may discuss and compare your answers. Finally, we will come together and have some of you share the answers with all of us.

Ask the question
  • It is helpful to have the questions displayed for reference on the board.
Monitor the time!
  • Think: Give students 1-3 minutes to think individually. You may encourage them to jot down answers or notes on a piece of paper/computer. You may extend the time according to the complexity of the topic.

  • Pair: Have students discuss in pairs for 5-10 minutes. You may choose to assign partners or ask students to pair up with their neighbor.

  • Share: Ask some students to share responses with the whole-class. Encourage students to share not only their points of agreement but also how and why their view differs from their partner. Ask probing questions when necessary.
Walk around to monitor and give individual support to pairs.
  • Circulate around the class to answer questions that may arise and to pinpoint students who are having discussions you may want to highlight in front of the class. If you hear a great discussion, you may want to tell that pair that you are planning to call on them so that they have time to prepare.

 [Variation: You may ask the class for a show of hands of who agree or disagree with an answer. You may also, instead of a whole-class discussion, ask two pairs of participants to share and compare the responses.]


Comment on student answers
  • Clarify incorrect answers or misconceptions

  • Use this activity as an informal assessment of students’ learning.

Identify weaknesses in their understanding, and make clarification in your comments/future teaching plans accordingly.

A typical technique to foster collaborative learning, “pair and share” can take various forms in classrooms. The most commonly practiced and studied is Think-Pair-Share, developed by Frank Lyman of the University of Maryland (Lyman, 1981), where students take approximately a minute to think through a response to a question (Think) proposed by the instructor—often one “demanding analysis, evaluation, or synthesis”—before turning to partners for discussion (Pair) and subsequently sharing “with a learning team, with a larger group, or with an entire class during a follow-up discussion” (Share) (Millis, 1990). In the third step, the instructor may ask selected pairs to share their respective positions and how or why they disagree, or request a joint response from a pair based on each other’s ideas (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014).

 A number of variations have evolved from the original Think-Pair-Share technique. Gerrard, Collette and Elowson (2005) summarized the variations of Write-Pair-Share (where students are first asked to reflect individually and jot down ideas), Think-Pair-Square (where, instead of a whole-class discussion, two pairs of participants work together to share and compare the responses), Turn-to-your-neighbor discussions (where participants brainstorm with a neighbor and are called on for answers, followed by a show of hands by the class to show agreement with the answer), and Pair-and-Compare (where students compare notes in pairs, add or correct information). At the end of the exercise, the students’ answers are commented on by the instructor, although the instructor may choose to skip this step if necessary (“Basic Active Learning Strategies”, n.d.). 

Pair and share techniques are often combined with peer instruction to foster collaborative learning (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000; Cortright, Collins, and DiCarlo, 2005; Turpen & Finkelstein, 2009). Documented and studied uses of the technique in undergraduate studies have been found in medicine (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000), biology (McClanahan & McClanahan, 2002), genetics (Smith et al., 2009), exercise physiology (Cortright, Collins & DiCarlo, 2005), economics (Maier & Keenan, 1994), physics (Crouch & Mazur, 2001), mathematics (Sampsel, 2013), and anthropology (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014).

 Pair and share is a simple and quick technique to help warm up the class (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014). It is an easily acceptable form of discussion as it allows students to “rehearse in a low-risk situation” (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014), clarifying their answers “through a non-threatening discussion with a fellow classmate before communicating in front of a group” (Millis, 1990). This helps improve the quality of discussion, and increases students’ willingness and readiness to speak up (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014). 

By reflecting and sharing in pairs, students get a chance to hear the knowledge restated from peers, rather than the instructors (Gray & Madson 2007). This enables students to interact more with each other even in a large classroom (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000); 50% of the students can vocalize their ideas simultaneously, which is impossible in lecturer-led classrooms (Gerrard, Collette & Elowson, 2005). Active discussion helps students learn more effectively with more independent thinking (Crouch & Mazur, 2001), thus potentially increasing students’ attention span and appealing to a greater number of learners (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000).

Students’ better involvement in class, induced by this technique, has potentially positive effects on learning outcomes. Research has shown that peer discussion enhances understanding even when none of the students in a discussion group originally knows the correct answer (Smith et al., 2009). The technique has been found to help increase students’ participation, generate more long explanations to questions, while instilling more confidence and comfort in students when contributing to class discussion (Sampsel, 2013).

Research on the long-term effects of pair and share techniques showed that it enhanced students’ ability to solve problems, including new types of problems (Cortright, Collins, and DiCarlo, 2005). By engaging in active and analytical discussions, students can have increased mastery of both conceptual reasoning and quantitative problem solving skills (Crouch & Mazur, 2001).

Written by Danxi Shen, Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education



Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.

“Basic Active Learning Strategies”. Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Minnesota.

Cortright, R. N., Heidi L. Collins, and Stephen E. DiCarlo. (2005). “Peer Instruction Enhanced Meaningful Learning: Ability to Solve Novel Problems.” Advances in Physiology Education, 29(2), 107-11.

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69(9), 970-977.

Gerrard, J., Collette, D., & Elowson, S. (2005) Using Cooperative Learning Techniques with Adults. Presented at NW Reginoal ASTD Conference, November 2005.

Gray, T., & Madson, L. (2007). Ten easy ways to engage your students. College Teaching, 55(2), 83-87.

Lyman, F. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion. In A. S. Anderson (ed.), Mainstreaming Digest. College Park, MD: University of Maryland, College of Education.

Maier, M. H., & Keenan, D. (1994). Teaching tools: Cooperative learning in economics. Economic Inquiry, 32(2), 358-361.

McClanahan, E. B., & McClanahan, L. L. (2002). Active learning in a non-majors biology class: lessons learned. College Teaching, 50(3), 92-96.

Millis, Barbara J. (1990). “Helping Faculty Build Learning Communities Through Cooperative Groups”. To Improve the Academy. Paper 202.

Rao, Sumangala P., and Stephen E. DiCarlo. (2000). “Peer Instruction Improves Performance on Quizzes.” Advances in Physiology Education, 24(1), 51-55.

Turpen, C., & Finkelstein, N. D. (2009). Not all interactive engagement is the same: Variations in physics professors’ implementation of peer instruction. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, 5(2), 020101.

Sampsel, Ariana, (2013). “Finding the Effects of Think-Pair-Share on Student Confidence and Participation”. Honors Undergraduate Student Research. Paper 28.

Smith, M. K., W. B. Wood, W. K. Adams, C. Wieman, J. K. Knight, N. Guild, and T. T. Su. (2009). “Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions.” Science, 323, 122-24.




Further Resources:

  • Barkley, E. F. (2009). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Lyman, F. (1987). Think-Pair-Share: An expanding teaching technique. MACIE Coperative News1(1),1-2.
  • Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Silberman M. (1996). Active learning: 101 Strategies to teach any Subject. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.