What is Think Pair Share? and Why it Helps Build Students’ Vocabulary

What is Think Pair Share? and Why it Helps Build Students' Vocabulary

What is Think Pair Share? You ask. It is my secret to getting new vocabulary words to stick in the little brains of my students. That’s right, it’s the secret sauce, the golden ticket, the stickiest super glue you’ve been searching for to fix your beloved paper weight that your favorite student knocked off your desk. Just me? No one uses paper weights anymore, right? We’ve all gone digital… Okay, well you get the gist. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty teacher talk, if you are brand new to teaching vocabulary, or a veteran looking to spice up your word learning activities, we are going to become fast friends! Join our Word Lovers Community for exclusive FREE monthly vocabulary activities sent directly to your inbox. No gimmicks, no nonsense – just a teacher helping out another teacher! Still not convinced? Here is a preview of the types of resources you get for free every month. Ready to hop on board the Word Lovers Train? I thought so 😉 , share your email below to get started!

If you already know a lot about the Think Pair Share teaching strategy, and you’re just looking for the resource I use to organize this protocol in my classroom, my Think Pair Share resource bundle can be found here! That being said, I hope you stay to learn a few things about my success getting students to talk about words with this low investment, high return strategy.

The Research Behind Think Pair Share

Did you know that the average student needs AT LEAST 40 exposures to a new vocabulary word before it’s officially in their “memory bank”? That’s right, the AVERAGE student. 3 school years into a pandemic, and fewer and fewer students are falling under that “average” or on grade-level category. Now more than ever students need MORE THAN 40 exposures to a word before they will MAYBE start using it in conversation, let alone in their writing. This Think Pair Share teaching strategy is a great start to increasing that exposure count and gaining some buzz around your classroom about all of the new words you’ve taught.

student surprised that children need at least 40 exposures to a new vocabulary word before it's in their memory bank
Teachers can help increase students exposure to new vocabulary words by providing multiple opportunities for using new words in conversation. The Think Pair Share teaching strategy is a great way to promote student discourse.

How I Discovered Think Pair Share

I just want to rewind for a second to share how I got to this Think Pair Share model. I’m thinking you may relate. 5 years into teaching 4th grade, I realized I was barely teaching any new vocabulary words in my classroom (YIKES!), let alone giving students 40 exposures to the same ONE word. Throughout various professional development workshops and numerous graduate courses focused on Literacy Education, teaching vocabulary was always a topic that got breezed right over. I’m not sure if people just assumed you had it under control, or if they just didn’t know how to teach it either. Regardless, I knew I needed to start incorporating explicit vocabulary lessons into my literacy block, but I didn’t know how.

I decided to dive headfirst into learning every single thing I could about how to teach my students new words that actually stick. I’ve tried many teaching strategies and The Think Pair Share/Think Jot Pair Share protocol has proven to be engaging and effective. This vocabulary teaching research process is actually a big part of how this blog, Vocabulicious came to fruition. Learn more on my welcome page, here

If you also want to dive head first into learning the best ways to teach students new vocabulary words, more power to you, my friend 💪🏼 . But, if that seems very overwhelming to you (like it did to me at first) and you don’t have the time to research, let alone figure out the best ways to put vocabulary best practices into action, I’ve got you. So, let’s jump in!

What is Think Pair Share?

The Think Pair Share teaching strategy is a way for students to collaborate with a partner or small group on a single topic or in this case a new vocabulary word. Students work together to come to a shared understanding of the focus word. Before turning to talk or pair with their partner, students are asked to spend a moment thinking about the topic/focus word independently in preparation to share their thoughts. In the end, partners work together to share their understanding of the topic with a small group or the class.

The common prompts/directions used for each step of the protocol are:

  • Think: Think about your understanding (~1-2 minutes)
  • Pair: Pair with someone to describe, explain and compare understandings (~3 minutes)
  • Share:
    • Share your knowledge by writing a sentence and drawing a picture that you could use to teach others (~ 3-5 minutes)
    • (Bonus) Have partner groups share out their writing/drawing to the whole class (~ 5 minutes)
Example of Think Pair Share classroom poster and graphic organizer to help students know what to do for each step in the protocal.
What is Think Pair Share? It’s the easiest way to get students talking about words and the secret to making new vocabulary stick!

Why is Think Pair Share effective?

This discussion technique is a great way to spark conversation in your classroom and build confidence within those students that don’t usually like to share out loud to a large group. According to Tanya S. Wright, author of one of my favorite professional books, A Teacher’s Guide to Vocabulary Development Across the Day, “Young children love to learn and use new words as they discuss, read about and write about ideas, as they learn to describe and explain their world, and as they play.” Our job as teachers is providing them the opportunities to do so. Developing a routine for word learning in your classroom, which includes weekly practice of this Think Pair Share collaboration protocol, is a great place to start!

How can you easily implement the Think Pair Share teaching strategy into your classroom vocabulary lessons?

Once you introduce a new vocabulary word to your class, this activity provides students with an opportunity to collaborate and recall the focus word and its definition/meaning. I use this strategy on the 2nd or 3rd day after teaching a new word because students do need a little background knowledge beforehand. In the end, students work together to come to a shared understanding of the word.

To keep kids on track and accountable during each step of this collaborative learning strategy, I created a printable 8.5×11” chart to distribute around the classroom, and a graphic organizer that includes the three steps (Think, Pair and Share). Both the poster and graphic organizer have directions on what they are expected to do during each stage. Students should take notes on the graphic organizer and use this to stay on track for each section. This activity only takes 8-10 minutes!

Time Management Pro Tip 

Teacher leading morning meeting while teaching vocabulary because this is a great way to fit in word learning and save time.
A great way to carve out 10-15 minutes a day for vocabulary teaching is to
incorporate it into morning meeting.

I incorporate my vocabulary lessons into morning meeting. This is the only time I could find a solid 15 minutes to focus solely on word learning. This Think Pair Share activity is perfect for morning meeting because it encourages student discourse and builds community by having partners work together to share their findings.

Thus, our morning meeting is a mixture of community building, interactive read aloud and word learning. I choose a weekly focus word based on the read aloud of the week. You can see my list of favorite books here, and more on this character trait teaching strategy, here.

Classroom Management Pro Tip

I have a big bin of clipboards that I put in the middle of our morning meeting rug. Then, I call students up to morning meeting three at a time to grab a clipboard and head to their rug spot. (Yes, I have assigned seats for morning meeting! This was one of the best management decisions I ever made).

As I call students up to the rug, I have a classroom helper hand out the word learning activity of the day, in this case the Think Pair Share graphic organizer. By having students sit in a circle they can easily turn to their left or right to find a partner to “pair” with.

A classroom morning meeting where students have designated rug spots, helping with classroom management.
What is Think Pair Share? A very simple way to get students talking about words and
build community while doing so!

Incorporate Writing with Think Jot Pair Share

After using the Think Pair Share strategy for a few years, I realized that it would be very simple to add a writing component to the protocol. Honestly, a lot of students were already jotting down some ideas and notes in the “Share” section to help prepare them for our classroom discussion. However, there are always those kids that will only put pen to paper when the directions specifically say so 😉 , so I figured why not add a “Jot” or “Write” section to the graphic organizer

I also really like the idea of having students jot/write BEFORE pairing with their partner. This was a quick way for me to see who remembered the meaning of the focus word and who was about to heavily rely on their partner for help. (Remember, I usually have students take part in this activity on the 2nd or 3rd day of our word learning cycle).

Example of Think Pair Write Share printable poster and graphic organizer for your classroom. This adds a writing component to the Think Pair Share protocal.
Adding a writing component to the Think Pair Share teaching strategy is a great way to hold students accountable and increase their engagement during the lesson.

Get Students Writing about Words!

So, once kids spend time independently thinking about the topic/focus word, they are asked to jot or write down their understanding of the word before pairing with a partner to discuss and collaborate. Personally, in my classroom I use the phrase “Stop and Jot” a lot when we are reading and jotting notes on post-its. So, I prefer the title “Think Jot Pair Share” , but if you prefer the name “Think Write Pair Share”, I’ve created a printable poster and graphic organizer for you too 🤓

Example of Think Pair Share and Think Pair Write Share printable poster and graphic organizers available to purchase for your classroom.
Buy this Think Pair Share/Think Pair Write Share resource bundle to get started! It includes 8 printable posters and 8 graphic organizers.

The secret sauce for getting vocabulary words to stick, GET YOUR STUDENTS TALKING ABOUT WORDS. I promise this is a very simple low investment, high return activity. Try it out and see for yourself!

Comment at the very bottom of this post with your success stories themed around using a similar Think Pair Share protocol in your classroom, or share any other tips and tricks for building a word learning routine.

I can’t wait to continue sharing simple ways to incorporate vocabulary teaching into your classroom. Until next time, make today meaningful, friends 💕 .

Learn more about Think Pair Share in this related articles!

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8 thoughts on “What is Think Pair Share? and Why it Helps Build Students’ Vocabulary

  1. Thank you for this great blog post. I agree Pair-Share is so important – when children have to voice what they are thinking it really helps them to organize their ideas and remember this for the future.

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