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February 16, 2012 Think-Pair-Share Test Prep Activity By Mary Blow
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Last week, I stood in the front of my classroom and listened to partner discussions spread like wildfire until the entire class was in a debate. What were we talking about? Pronouns! It started as a simple multiple-choice bell ringer, a state test review question. But whatever the content, think-pair-share, or some variation of the strategy, engages students in learning. 

    Think-pair-share is a strategy that I use in my classroom on a daily basis. Watch Scholastic’s "Active Participation Routines" video that takes you inside a classroom where a teacher models how to implement think-pair-share effectively. The student-centered approach offers many benefits:

    • Every student is engaged in discussions.
    • Verbalizing thoughts or ideas helps students to write about them.
    • Students are motivated to learn as they enjoy the socializing component.
    • Students are exposed to multiple learning styles and varying thought processes.
    • The teacher facilitates and provides immediate feedback.


    Read-Pair-Share Multiple-Choice

    Last week, my students read two nonfiction articles from the November 21 Scope magazine unit “Where Would You Rather Live? One article described Miami, Florida, the hurricane capital of the United States, and the other, Southern California, the land of a thousand earthquakes.

    Independently, my 6th graders responded to multiple-choice questions about the articles using a compare and contrast handout. Then they worked with a think-pair-share partner to compare their answers. If any answers differed, their job was to go back to the article and figure out the correct answer. What was the catch? They could only hand in one paper for a grade. Therefore, they had to be in agreement on the answers. I walked around the room listening to the rich discussions that resulted as students evaluated answers and referenced the text. When they finished, we graded them together in class, analyzing the questions and providing immediate feedback.

    Click on the image above to download the handout.


    Write-Pair-Share Written Responses

    I used these same two articles to practice the short answer responses (SAR) required on state assessments, but any paired passages will work. My 6th graders responded to SARs and essay prompts that were designed to reflect those on state assessments. Each student read and highlighted relevant, textual details from both passages (see image to the right).

    In the SARs, they were asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living in Miami, Florida, and Southern California. Working in pairs, they highlighted and shared their details, evaluating the relevancy and strength. Again, my classroom was buzzing with rich discussion. After they agreed upon the strongest text-based details, they wrote their paragraphs.  Because they had engaged in a verbal discussion, it was much easier for my writers, especially struggling writers, to express their ideas in writing.

    I am indebted to Mary Ellen Ledbetter for saving me hours of grading time. She shared the idea of grading written responses during student sharing. I start out by establishing the focus for a writing assignment. For example, in the activity above it was textual evidence. As they are writing, I walk around the room, making sure everyone is on track.

    After they finish, each student reads two sentences, one advantage and one disadvantage sentence. It doesn’t matter if they have the same details as a previous student because they read their own sentences, sharing their own voice and writing styles. If a student is confused or if he or she selected off-topic details, I offer praise for effort and guidance to get him or her back on track. The student is offered the opportunity to revise and edit. I come back to those students at the end and grade the revised responses. This way, students get immediate feedback before writing the essay the next day.

    Some of you may be cringing because I am not grading every capital letter and ending punctuation. I have over 110 students. It is easier for students to focus on one skill or criteria at a time and mastery is much higher. In order to cover all the topics and pull it together, we need to be writing a lot — every day. I don’t need to grade every assignment meticulously. Having them read excerpts from their responses gives them a chance to hear their writing and provides the opportunity to revise and edit in a timely manner. My students are eager to share and learn from each other. They appreciate the constructive criticism.


    Listen-Pair-Share Taking Notes

    The same premise applies to taking notes on a listening passage. Students take notes, compare them to their partners' notes, and then adjust their own. Many students struggle with identifying the important details. Some try to capture the passage word-for-word. Others don’t take any notes. The discussion process exposes students to different learning styles and different thought processes. They take the multiple-choice part of the assessment and repeat the think-pair-share process, comparing answers. Again, I grade it in class, so they have accurate note details before heading into the written response.

    Ultimately, think-pair-share in any variation (thinking, reading, or writing) is a daily activity that effectively engages students in state test prep. Each student is held accountable for participating in the learning process. All students are engaged in evaluating text, identifying relevant and accurate text-based details, and writing thorough responses. The student-centered learning environment frees the teacher to facilitate learning, not dictate it.


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