There are many specific strategies you can use that contribute to effective and successful Pair-Sharing.
(1) Desk Arrangement.
Desks need to be suitably arranged so students have physical access to their pair-share partner. Move the desks if necessary. Most teachers are sliding rows of desks closer together. Also, students need to face the teacher to see the teaching. Don’t have student desks in groups of four where they are looking at each other instead of the teacher.
(2) Strategic Pairing.
Group individual students into pairs strategically. When possible, ELs should be paired with a fluent English speaker. Beginning ELs should be paired with a student who can serve as an interpreter. Special needs students should be grouped with a student who is able to provide support. If some students are absent, then immediately move students around so everyone has a partner.
(3) Rotating The Pairs.
It’s a good idea to form new pair-sharing partners periodically. Many teachers are starting new groups quarterly. This allows students to interact with a broader range of partners.
Classroom discipline problems can often be reduced by changing partners or moving students from the back of the classroom to a seat in the front. Also, it’s not a good idea to isolate one student by himself because then he does not benefit from the Pair-Share interaction. Keep all students in partners. If you have an odd number of students then there will be one group of three students.
We have found that when Pair-Shares are used extensively, students will request to move when they don’t have a partner.
(4) Label students in the pairs.
When we first started using Pair-Shares extensively, we noticed that some students were dominating the Pair-Shares and others were rarely speaking. To include all students, we assign labels to the students. Most teachers are using “A” partners and “B” partners so they can cue students. The easiest method is to label alternating rows as “A” and “B.” During the lesson, you mix up the pair shares with cues such as:
A read today’s learning objective to B.
B explain to A the definition of a quadrilateral.
A first and then B, explain how to solve this density problem.
When you call on students to respond, you can ask questions involving the Pair-Share itself, “What did your partner say about …?”
(5) Train students to Pair-Share.
Invest time in training your students to Pair-Share. In some schools, students have been told to keep quiet so often that they are reluctant to speak to each other, and it takes a while before they fully understand that they are supposed to talk in class during the Pair-Shares.
I visited a school where the teacher had trained kindergartners to Pair-Share. What happens is amazing. The students sit on the carpet cross-legged facing the teacher attentively listening to her. Suddenly, she gives the command “Sharing Position.” All the students spin 90 degrees on their bottoms to face each other in pairs. She directs them in what to tell their partner. As the students finish, she gives the command “Listening Position.” Every student spins back to face the teacher.
(6) Provide a cueing signal for students to immediately stop talking and face the teacher.
Classes run more efficiently when you use a consistent signal to call for students’ attention when ending Pair-Shares. There are two types: (1) a teacher-only signal and (2) call-and-respond. Both work. You can also use a sounding device such as a hotel bell, or clicker, or even a doorbell. To prepare students to wind up their conversations, include warning signals such as “15 seconds eyes front,” “10 seconds eyes front,” “three, two, one, eyes FRONT.”
Here is a typical call-and-respond signal.
Teacher: One, two, three. Eyes on me.
Students: One, two, eyes on you.
Recently, I taught a class of fourth graders a demo EDI lesson on multiple-meaning words. I paired off the students and used extensive Pair-Shares. Later in the day, I saw one of my students with a different teacher that I was coaching. After the teacher asked a question, the student raised his hand and said in a straight forward, matter of fact way, “Teacher, isn’t this about time you should tell us to explain to our partners what this means?” Wow! The students were doing coaching for me. I have seen several examples like this. As students are trained in the practices, little time is spent in directing student behavior.
Pair-Shares are so powerful that even students attest to how much it helps them in their classes.
Below are verbatim student responses from students enrolled in a DataWORKS StepUP Academy where we accelerated English Learners by pre-teaching next year’s standards during the summer.
Write a sentence telling how you felt when the teacher asked you to talk to your neighbor or partner:
- Yes, it helps me [to] talk to my partner because I could think about my answer before giving the answer to the teacher.
- When my partner tells me the answer, it gives me details and it gets more interesting.
- I was better prepared to answer questions.
- It helps me because we put all of our ideas together.
- Yes it helps me because I could correct the answer with a new answer.
- It help [sic] me on reading the sentence.
- It helped me because we worked together so we could learn more.
- Partner talk helped me to remember what I learned.
- It helped me not be nervous.
- Sometimes my neighbor let [me] know if I had the right answer or not.
- I knew some more stuff that I did not know and I learned more stuff.
From Dr. Silvia Ybarra:
John and I spend considerable time at schools coaching teachers in the classroom. Cueing and reminding teachers to have students Pair-Share is our most frequent suggestion. This is because it is a new practice for many teachers. Generally, after several hints to Pair-Share, teachers start doing it and Pair-Shares become part of their daily repertoire of teaching tools.