Think-Pair-Share: An Active Learning Technique

Written by Nouar Nour & Jori Marshall
October 11, 2019 • 3 minute read

How well do your students communicate in class? Are they critically engaging with discussion questions? 

Do your students communicate their comprehension with vague non-verbal cues or are they actively participating? If you attempt to engage your students by asking open-ended questions, how can you be sure these questions are being comprehended? 

You may be familiar with a common classroom technique, Think-Pair-Share (TPS), but might refer to it by another name. You may even employ techniques similar to TPS, for example, instructing your students to turn to the person sitting next to them to discuss a concept being taught. Whatever terminology used or preferred, Think-Pair-Share is a simple yet effective way of allowing your students to actively engage with course content. The TPS strategy encourages a high degree of classroom participation and assist students in developing a conceptual understanding of core materials in a course.

Think-Pair-Share was introduced by Dr. Frank Lyman for use in Special Education settings in 1981 to strengthen and diversify student participation. A study conducted by Mahmoud Kaddoura of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences on baccalaureate nursing students using the TPS method produced findings that supported TPS’s ability to significantly increase critical thinking over-time. Critical-thinking thus promotes self-learning and regulation.

Benefits of Think-Pair-Share Strategy:

  • Can increase student accountability while centering the learner.
  • Promotes equity among student participation in your classroom
  • Quick, time-saving approach that can influence students who have little intrinsic interest in a given topic.
  • Allows students to validate their own critical thinking process while gaining knowledge from many perspectives.
  • Allows for access to deeper understanding and analysis

Although quick and time-saving, think-pair-share activities should involve thoughtful preparation to be effective. You should have your learning objectives in mind before drafting your TPS. Thus, backward design is a valuable approach to utilize in writing questions for TPS in support of your learning goals. 

Think-Pair-Share Steps:

  1. Assign (a) question(s) to your students to silently think or write about.
  2. Assign students to pairs (or groups) to share their answers/ideas.
  3. Allocate a given amount of time for students to be able to discuss in their pairs.
  4. Allow group members to share their responses or their group/partners’ response to the entire class.

Think-Pair-Share Tips:

  • Allow students to have the right to pass (not share information).  
    • This promotes equity and accessibility by centering the student and allowing room for accommodations.
  • As stated above, have your learning objectives in mind when writing discussion questions.
    • This reinforces and support student learning outcomes.
  • Utilize open-ended questions with many conceivable answers. 
    • This promotes in-depth discussion.
  • Walk around your classroom to different discussion groups to observe student interaction.
    • This will help you in noticing if students are on the right track and in paying attention to misconceptions.
  • Give students the opportunity to develop insightful questions on readings done in or before class. 
    • This will give you the opportunity to assess student comprehension of course content and answer questions that are shared and give students the opportunity to explore aspects of the topic that interests them.
  • Towards the end of your TPS activity, inquire about questions that weren't answered. 
    • This, again, centers the learner and promotes collaboration between you and your students. 

Are you or someone you know finding success with Think-Pair-Share strategy? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email to share your story.


The University of San Francisco provides access to the Canvas learning management system and Zoom video conferencing software for students, faculty, and staff. The links below provide suggestions on how to incorporate the Think-Pair-Share activity into your hybrid and online teaching.

Not sure where to start? We are here to help. 

To learn how to implement the jigsaw method effectively in your course, contact Instructional Design to request a consultation. 

Contact Instructional Technologies & Training to schedule a training session and access self-guided training materials.