Facilitation Friday #42: A More Powerful Pair Share

Turn to a partner and …

The Partner Share (or Pair Share) may be one of the simplest and most frequently used interaction formats in workshops.  It easily moves participants from passively listening to a presenter to active learners conversing with a peer.

So I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I only recently thought deeply about this technique in terms of how introverted or extroverted learners might value it. This rethinking happened because (1) I’ve been rereading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking; and, (2) my own experience as a workshop participant where the presenter asked us to share with a partner. Side note: I find Cain's book a bit excessive, but her TED talk quite helpful.

Very early in the workshop in which I participated, the presenter asked us to partner and for each person to take about three minutes to share his/her definition of effective workshop design.  My partner asked to share first and despite my strong effort to remain an active listener, I found a part of my brain kept shifting to thinking about my definition and what I was going to share during my turn.

Lightbulb. Face palm. D’oh.

A partner or pair share is most effective when both partners can be 100% present.  That can be facilitated, and the internal reflection process of introverts can better be honored, with a simple shift in the instructions:
  • Introduce the discussion question or sharing topic.
  • Ask people to take a minute or two to jot down their own thoughts.
  • Now invite them to pair up and take turns sharing.
When you capture your own thinking first, it becomes much easier to focus on what your partner is sharing and to potentially draw more insight from it.

To test my own experience, I used a recent facilitation skills workshop that I led. I divided the room into halves and explained I would be coming to each group individually with instructions. With one group, I used the typical “partner up and share” and with the other I used the modified process described above.

After the pair shares were completed, I asked individuals to assign a 1-5 ranking for each of the following areas (1 being lowest and 5 being highest):
  • I articulated my best thinking to my partner.
  • I remained engaged as an active listener for my partner.
Participants in the group that received the modified instructions consistently offered higher rankings for both questions.

While I may be late to this party, a Google search while preparing this post let me know that some educators have long called the technique: Think, Pair, Share.  Its value has been noted particularly for its equity in the learning process.

The lesson learned?  Even the simplest facilitation format benefits from examination through a different potential learning lens be it introversion-extroversion, generational, physical ability, amount of experience, native language, et al. Doing so often will highlight opportunities to make it more inclusive in its appeal and value.

Facilitation Friday is a weekly series exploring the work of effective facilitation. Your comments about this post are encouraged, as well as requests for future post's topics.  To find previous posts in this series, simply search for the label: facilitationfriday.  

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