Tania K. Cowling is a former teacher, a published book author, and award winning freelance writer.
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How well do your students communicate in class? If they tend to be shy participants, there's a learning tool you can use to help them think independently, pair up and discuss with a classmate or in small groups, and share their knowledge with the class. Developed by Frank Lyman, a professor at the University of Maryland, in 1981, it's simply called Think-Pair-Share. I'm a big fan of this collaborative discussion strategy, especially with my primary students.
The teacher asks an open-ended question and students think quietly about it for a minute or two. Then every student pairs up with a partner and they discuss the question for two to five minutes. Finally, the whole class engages in a discussion where students raise their hands and share all the thoughts and ideas they've gathered.
With young children, it's best if the teacher models the technique with a volunteer so the class knows what to do. Just make sure to emphasize the rules of this exercise with your students. They must use their inside voices, take turns, and avoid interrupting their partner. Some teachers even pass out work sheets so students can write down the questions and their thoughts.
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Some students feel safer and more relaxed when talking in small groups, rather than having to speak in front of the entire class. The Think-Pair-Share activity gives them the opportunity to feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts. In addition to fostering social skills, this strategy also improves students' speaking and listening skills. When pairs brainstorm together, each student learns from their partner. This can help students expand their vocabulary as they learn new words from their peers and build on their prior knowledge.
I found this activity to be particularly useful when I was substituting in the elementary grades. Whether I incorporated it into the daily lesson plans that were left for me or created a fill-in lesson with my own open-ended questions, the discussions generated by the children in the class were truly interesting. One piece of advice: Make sure your students stay on topic. Once, as I strolled the classroom during this activity and I heard a lot about costumes and parties—too bad the question I asked wasn't about Halloween!
When your class finishes a book, use Think-Pair-Share to check their comprehension. Invite your students to discuss the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) to understand all parts of the story. Have them discuss who their favorite character was and why. Ask them, "What if you changed the plot of the story? What would happen if...?"
Make use of the Think-Pair-Share strategy when dealing with word problems. These complex situations can sometimes be difficult for young children to grasp, and this strategy can help your students work together to find the correct answer. You're not limited to word problems, either. Pairs can review the steps to finding the product or quotient in simple multiplication and division problems, too.
There's a wide variety of scientific topics students can discuss. For instance, if some students are struggling to understand the process of plant growth, why not lead a discussion on how plants start as little seeds and grow into the final product? Space travel is also a great discussion topic. How much do your students know about the International Space Station? How do astronauts live, eat, and work?
Use this strategy to spark conversations about your social studies curriculum. Because many areas of this subject connect to real life, this activity can also help you to get to know your class. Try asking questions like "Why is it important for families to work together?" or "How does your family celebrate holidays?" You can connect these inquiries to the class curriculum, learn about your students, and give your students the opportunity to bond and learn about each other.
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Whether you're a veteran teacher or new to the game, the Think-Pair-Share technique can be an effective tool for fostering discussions in the classroom. This cooperative activity can be used with kids of all ages, even middle and high school students. Any method that can stimulate a student's curiosity in a fun manner is a teaching tool to add to your book of tricks.