In Class Activities Think – Pair – Share

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In Class Activities
Think – Pair – Share: (usually large classes, but can be used in smaller classes)

Have your students group themselves groups of 2-3. It's important to have small groups to allow each student to talk. This activity works ideally with questions to encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, or critical analysis. The students will first consider the question on their own, then discuss it in pairs, and then finally together in the whole class. The procedure is as follows:

    1. Have students form groups.

    2. Ask a question (Write your question on the board or project it on PowerPoint).

    3. Have students consider the question on their own.

    4. Next, have students discuss the question with their partner and work toward a solution, or share their ideas and/or contrasting opinions.

Advantages of the think-pair-share include engagement of all students in the classroom, and giving voice to quieter students who might not share with a larger group. This activity also reveals student misconception and can help guide the direction of the lecture or class discussion. Re-group as a whole class and solicit responses from some or all of the pairs.

Engaging in collaborative discourse and argumentation enhances student’s conceptual understandings and refines their reasoning abilities. Stage a debate exploiting an arguable divide in the day’s materials. Give teams 10 min to prepare, and then put them into argument with a team focused on representing an opposing viewpoint. Advantages include practice in using the language of the discipline and student practice at crafting evidence-based reasoning in their arguments.

Interview or Role Play:

Members of the class take the part or perspective of historical figures, authors, or other characters and must interact from their perspective. Advantages include motivation to solve a problem or to resolve a conflict for the character as well as providing a new perspective through which students can explore or understand an issue.

Free Writing or Minute Paper:

Start/end the class with a free writing or drawing exercise asking the students to respond to a prompt. Writing activities are usually 1-2 min, and can focus on key questions discussed during the class. These activities give students the change to organize their own thoughts, or can be collected by the teacher to gain feedback from the students. For example “What was the muddiest point in today's lecture?“ or “What was the most important thing you learned during today's class?” Advantages include developing the ability to think holistically and improving students’ writing skills. Each student must individually reflect on the subject of the day.

Case Studies: (large or smaller classes)

Case studies are presented as scenarios that apply concepts or ideas learned in class to a “real-life” situation. They are usually provided in narrative form, and can be used for problem-solving, or for critiquing a situation. You can discuss case studies as an entire class, or have students think-pair- share (see above). Usually, case studies are most effective if they are presented sequentially, so that students receive additional information as the case unfolds, and can continue to analyze or critique the situation/problem. Cases can be more or less “directed” by the kinds of questions asked—these kinds of questions can be appended to any case, or you could use them as prompts for in-class discussions.

Advantages of Case Studies are that they engage students in critical thinking and promote student reflection. In some cases, case studies can enable students to appreciate ambiguity in situations (e.g. ethics cases).

Interactive Demonstrations: (usually for large classes)

Interactive demonstrations can be used in lectures to demonstrate the application of a concept, a skill, or to act out a process. The exercise should not be passive; you should plan and structure your demonstration to incorporate opportunities for students to reflect and analyze the process.

  1. Introduce the goal and description of the demonstration.

  2. Have students think-pair-share (see above) to discuss what they predict may happen, or to analyze the situation at hand (“pre-demonstration” state or situation).

  3. Conduct the demonstration.

  4. Students discuss and analyze the outcome (either in pairs/small groups, or as a whole class), based on their initial predictions/interpretations.

Advantages of interactive demonstrations include novel visualizations of the material and allowing students to probe their own understanding by asking if they can predict the outcome of the demo. They are also a venue for providing applications of ideas or concepts.
Jigsaw: (ideally small- to medium-sized classes)

A Jigsaw is a cooperative active learning exercise. Students are grouped into teams. The exercise can be used to solve a problem, to analyze a reading assignment, or to analyze data. Each student in the team contributes a different part of the assignment and teachers the others- hence, the name “jigsaw” (as in a jigsaw puzzle).

  1. Group students into teams or 4 or 5.

  2. Divide the task (i.e. problem, reading, etc) into smaller components (“pieces of the puzzle”) that are related.

  3. Assign a different “piece” to each student in the team. It may be easiest to number the pieces 1 through 4 (or 5, depending upon the number of students per team) and assign numbers 1 through 4 to team members.

  4. Each member of the team works on his/her piece.

If this is an in-class activity, have them spend 3 – 5 minutes working on their piece. Then, have the teams share and teach each other so they can collaboratively work on the problem or assignment. If time permits, have the students group themselves by the same piece (e.g. students working on piece 1 get together; students working on piece 2 get together, etc). Have the students spend 3 – 5 min comparing their work with others. Then, have the students re-group into their original teams and share additional ideas they have gotten from others.
If this is an assignment that students will work on outside of class, then set aside class time after they complete the assignment so that the students can collaborate in their teams to teach each other their individual pieces of the puzzle.
Advantages of Jigsaw interactions are that they engage all students, can explore substantive problems or readings. They allow for a diversity of ideas that can be shared and critically analyzed and students learn from each other.
‘Pass it on’: This is an activity that can work very well in a large room with fixed seats (as well as any size group or classroom)
Ask each person to take out a half-sheet of paper or give them an index card that they can pass around the room. Ask them to note down something that relates to what you have been doing in the class (be sure to let them know that whatever they write will be shared). It can be something that they do, think or believe or it can be a fact you presented, or it can be a question they want to ask others. Give them 1-2 minutes, then ask them to fold it in half, and pass it along X number of spaces (enough that it is not obvious who wrote what). They then open it, and either add a comment, or a question, or edit it (depends on what you asked them to do). You can vary the number of passes, depending on time; in the end, it has to come back to the person who wrote it. You can then either move on, or ask people to say what they got out of the edits. It has a nice component of quiet writing and reflection, but is also very active, and can link to small group or whole class discussions.

Throw a snowball: 

Everyone is involved. Contributions are shared. It’s quick and fun. And it can give you information too (if you collect all of them afterwards.). To do it, have everyone prepared with a half-sheet of loose paper. Ask them to print (legibly) their response to your posed question on the sheet (and tell them it will be shared with others). Now, ask them to crumple it into a loose ‘snowball’, gently toss it into the group, then pick one up and read it. You could ask for 1-2 examples to be read out loud, or you could collect them all, type up and share with the class.
What’s news?:

Design in-class activities where students connect current events and issues to course material. Do this as a ‘flexible assignment’ choice whereby students can speak to the class about this briefly, or they can build it into a short lesson that they teach the class (after having instructor okay their draft lesson plan). Also encourage students to connect current events and issues into their learning portfolio final assignments. Finally, bring current events to class to introduce a new topic; the article can be factual, controversial, or opinion (or sometimes all three at once!).

Buzz Groups:

McKeachie (2006) uses a buzz group technique to ensure student participation in large classes. In his lectures, when he comes to a concept that lends itself to discussion, he asks students to form groups of five to eight people to talk about the issue. He instructs them to make sure each member of the group contributes at least one idea to the discussion. After 10 minutes, he calls on some of the groups to report and asks other groups who came to the same conclusion to raise their hands. As they report, he records their main points on the blackboard and then incorporates the material into a future lecture.

Three-Step Interview:

For this small group process, students first work in pairs. The first person in the dyad interviews or questions the second person. The second person then interviews or questions the first person. For the next step, two dyads work together. One person from the first dyad explains their conclusion or summary to the second dyad, and one of the individuals from the second dyad explains their summary or results to the first dyad.

The Lecture Check (Mazur, 1997):

This strategy works very well in large classes, but is equally effective in smaller class enrollments. Project a question for the class to see often this is a multiple choice item that is similar to the type of question that will be used on an exam. Students are asked to respond by some method. If most of the students have the correct response, the instructor simply continues with the course material. If, however, more than approximately 20% chose the incorrect response, the instructor has students turn to their neighbor and convince them of the correct choice. Finally, the instructor goes through the items again to see how many choose each alternative. If an unacceptable number still have incorrect responses, it may be wise to go back over the material. Students also can be called on to defend the selection they have made.

Whole-Class Debates (Frederick, 2002):

Taking advantage of the dividing aisle in large lecture halls, the instructor assigns sides of a debate to the two halves of the class (or, by prearrangement, students sit on the side of the room representing the point of view they wish to support). The instructor asks each side for five statements supporting their side of the issue. This process may be repeated, with rebuttals, until the instructor feels that the class has fully explored the issue. To end the debate and achieve closure, the instructor asks for two or three volunteers to make summary arguments for each side.


Students, working in groups, are given a problem to solve. They must write down their group’s solution and then pass on the problem to another group. Without reading the previous groups solution, the second group must write down their solution. Repeat this process as often as necessary. Once this process has been completed, compare and contrast the groups’ different solutions. 

Use this method to encourage students to critically think about and discriminate among several solutions.
Cooperative Groups in Class

Pose a question to be worked on in each cooperative group and then circulate around the room answering questions, asking further questions, keeping the groups on task, and so forth. After an appropriate time for group discussion, students are asked to share their discussion points with the rest of the class. 

Use this method to encourage students to problem solve in order to answer a question or address an issue. 

Although all of the exercises outlined above have been used successfully in auditorium-style classrooms, it is true that the physical arrangement of the room and the number of students in the class can make some of the exercises difficult to carry out. Instructors report, however, that students will often find creative ways to overcome these environmental constraints in order to have the opportunity to exercise their minds more actively in the classroom.

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