What are Pair Shares and How Do They Benefit Adult Learners?

The phrase “Pair Share” is educator lingo for a type of partner-based activity, one that’s been around for three decades. I train adults and frequently employ this time-tested strategy in training events. Pair shares, if well crafted, upgrade the level of active engagement and involvement for adult learners.

What are Pair Shares?

“Pair Share” is a shortened version of the term “Think Pair Share” a learning process strategy created by Frank Lyman at the University of Maryland back in 1981. The process starts with a prompt from the instructor or trainer – usually a question to answer. After the prompt, the learners will think, then pair, then share. Think means that each learner will think about the answer to a question. Pair, of course implies that two people are together so during pair, each person finds a partner. “Share” means talking to your partner to tell the person your answer. Some people refer to “Think-Pair-Share” as simply “Pair Share” – they are one and the same.

A Pair Share Example

Here’s one example of a simple “pair-share.”

Instructor: “Today, we are going to learn effective listening skills in the workplace. First, I’d like for each of you to think of time that you felt like someone in your workplace was really listening when you were talking. I’ll pause to allow you to think of that time and recall the incident.”

(Instructor pauses.)

Instructor: “Next try to recall what exactly the other person did that demonstrated that he or she was listening. I’ll pause to allow you time to think about that question.”

(Instructor pauses)

Instructor: “Now I’ll give all of the instructions for a short discussion and then I’ll tell you to start the discussion. Here are the instructions first. When I say “go”, I’d like for you to pair up with someone sitting near you and tell your partner what the other person did that demonstrated that he/she was listening. Each of you has two minutes to share so the discussion will be four minutes in total. Any questions?”

(Instructor pauses)

Instructor: “I’ll let you know when two minutes has passed and then again at four minutes. ‘Go.’”
The above is just one example. “Pair Shares” can be used in infinite numbers of ways and for different purposes in the live classroom setting. The trainer, instructor or facilitator plans the question or uses a question provided in a specific curriculum.

How do Pair Shares Benefit Adult Learners?

“Pair Shares” help learners process and remember information and skills – and can be adapted for many purposes and functions. Specific benefits for the human brain include:

1. Process the Content: Talking about the content in different ways helps the human brain to more deeply understand and relate to the content.

2. Personalize the Learning Experience: Many pair shares ask the learner to relate the topic to something that is personally relevant.

3. Hear Perspectives of Others: Not only will adult learners relate to the content in a personal way. Pair Share also allow for hearing the personal relevance between the content and other people’s experiences. Hearing from others provides an example that might be different from one’s own.

4. Provides A Social Context for Learning: Many people enjoy talking to others. Pair Shares allows an opportunity for talking during class, but the talking is actually on topic.

What Happens After a Pair Share?

After a pair share discussion, a facilitator or trainer has a few choices about how to proceed. Here are a few ideas:

1. Change Activities: Stop after the pair share discussion has occurred and move on to the next learning activity.

2. Large Group Sharing: After pair share discussions, the instructor can ask for a few people to share with the large group the answer that the person shared with his/her partner.

3. A Follow-up Pair Share: A trainer might decide to take the learning to a deeper level by asking a second question for the learners to “think-pair-share” about.

Pair Share Extensions, Expansions and Add-Ons

A short, partner discussion is the simplest form of pair share. Pair shares can also be used for learners to review content together, complete a task together or even debate together.


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