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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Joan Eisenstodt said...

Ah, Jeffrey, thank you for examining out loud what I've thought about for some time and never written nor come to conclusion tho' I never do pairing!I'll suggest small (no more than 5) work together and that too has its up and downs sides. I don't do the pair-share because _I_ don't like it for me. It's uncomfortable because, unlike you thinking what you're going to say, I have questions galore of the person sharing and want to discuss one concept and not two. Now .. I'll think and observe more about the process and outcomes and ask. Thanks. Always.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks Joan. The reason I find pairing valuable as an option is that some individuals can be intimidated by even a small group. They may feel compelled to contribute, particularly if everyone in the group turns to them when one person says "Jeffrey, what's your take?"

I figure in much of life we have to talk one-on-one, so doing so in a workshop might not be too threatening so long as the environment and topic works for participants.

I like the curiosity you talk about in why pair share doesn't work as well for you. Maybe that's something we all need to think about: what conversation formats will allow people to express their natural curiosity about each other without intimidating any individuals from participating?

Elizabeth said...

I use the pair share for introductions. By introducing someone else to the group who you have gotten to know through a brief interview, it is far less threatening and creates an expectation that everyone is on equal footing for what is to come.
Elizabeth Derrico