Think, Pair, Share: More Engaging Class Discussions
Does getting your students to participate in class discussions feel like pulling teeth? Have you ever struggled leading a class discussion?
We’ve discussed before how to inspire the entrepreneurial mindset in your students but most of us struggle with engaging all of their students, especially during in-class discussions.
Some students are naturally involved in classroom discussions, while for others, the call for participation can lead to dropped gazes, hunched postures, and impenetrable silence. Why?
Students don’t feel safe.
We’ve all been in group situations where we’ve been called to participate and we are reluctant to share. Think about the last conference you attended, where the presenter asked for volunteers. Or the last meeting you attended where you were asked to share your thoughts.
Just like us, our students sometimes don’t feel confident that what they have to share will benefit the class or worry about how they will be perceived. When that happens, the glassy stares and stony faces of our students can leave us feeling frustrated and disheartened. Not only that, but without a game plan, a few disengaged students can hinder the engagement for our entire classroom.
With the Think, Pair, Share process, we’ll show you how to bypass what stops your students from participating and deepen their commitment to showing up 100% in your course. Specifically, we’ll help you flip the script on how you facilitate discussions, so students feel confident and safe participating in your discussion. This results in a livelier classroom.
3 Steps to Lively Class Discussions
An engaged discussion with your students starts with you as the instructor and how well you prepare to promote the exchange of diverse ideas. Imagine you want to have a discussion where students come up with a business to start on campus or to discuss last night’s reading.
If you start off your discussion with a generic question about the main takeaway from the reading, you’ll likely have your usual suspects raise their hands to share their thoughts. The rest of your class may keep their heads down hoping you won’t call on them. Instead of just jumping into a group discussion, try this 3-step process and see how it improves the engagement of your entire class.
Step 1: Think
Rather than announcing that you’d like your class to discuss a topic, you’ll start by telling your students you’d like them to reflect on what they read last night. For example, ask them to come up with 1-2 takeaways from last night’s reading and write them down. Tell them you will give them 1-2 minutes to think about this.
Tell the students they are going to have a specified amount of time to reflect on the topic for discussion and encourage them to write down their thoughts.
It’s important to keep this reflection time quiet and discourage any conversation so each student has a chance to reflect on their own.
Step 2: Pair
Once you’ve given the students adequate time to reflect and organize their thoughts on the topic, connect them with a partner give them 2-3 minutes each to share their thoughts.
The Pair step is fundamental to the process’ success because:
- Sharing with a partner is less intimidating than speaking in front of the entire class.
- It gives the students practice putting their ideas into words and clarify their thoughts.
- It gives the students validation as they discover what they have to say is well-received and makes sense to someone else.
- (BONUS) As soon as you’ve created your pairs, you’ll notice that your entire class is instantly engaged.
Make sure the students understand how much time each of them will have to share their ideas and remind them to switch roles halfway through.
Step 3: Share
Now that your students have finished with their partner, it’s time for the main event. In this step, you’ll find that your students feel safer participating with the entire class because they’ve practiced sharing their thoughts which were validated by their partner. In addition to sharing their own ideas, they may be inspired to share their partner’s thoughts.
Invite the students to share their thoughts on the subject with the entire class. There are a few sharing options that you can utilize, depending on what feels right for you and the energy of your class:
- Ask them to raise their hands to share their thoughts
- Invite them to spontaneously shout out their thoughts, sometimes with leading questions (à la popcorn style)
- Use technology like a mindmapping tool to organize their different ideas
A sharing option for one class may not work for another. It’s important to practice different sharing options to find what will work best for a specific class.
Because students are given space to ease into discussions with this process, you’ll find that the majority of your students will begin to participate easily and quickly.
Through these steps, students will gain clarity and confidence in expressing their ideas on any given topic. Use this technique not just for discussion-leading, but for:
- Coming up with business ideas
- Brainstorming solutions for problems
- Discussing why some solutions fail and some don’t
Anytime you want your students to share thoughts, use Think, Pair, Share to boost student engagement.
This will also help them prepare for speaking and presenting beyond the classroom and into a workplace setting.
As the instructor, you’ll get more engaged students and lively classroom discussions.
Get the “Think, Pair, Share” Worksheet
We’ve created a detailed “Think, Pair, Share” worksheet. This exercise walks you through the process of facilitating a successful group discussion step-by-step and gives you the tools to assess and evaluate what works well for any particular class.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.
We’ve incorporated Think, Pair, Share into several of the exercises that are in our fully experiential curriculum. If you’d like to see how Think, Pair, Share is leveraged in a structured lesson, click to learn more.