Opportunities for Using Pairs/ Partners for Classroom Learning

Two Students
Preliminary Notes:
  • Most of the time, paired exercises are used as a quick and easy way for student interaction and learning. That means that pairs will simply be people who are already sitting next to each other. If you are choosing the pairs, try to split “best-friend” combinations, but don’t go to a lot of trouble to do so. 
  • About three or four weeks into the quarter, help people to get to know others in the classroom by choosing pairs from clear across the room so that there is almost no likelihood at all that the people have worked together before. 
  • CRUCIAL – If you don’t do this, don’t even bother using pairs/ partners!! Go around the room and be certain that every single person has a partner. If necessary, quickly make a three before it becomes obvious that a person has been left out. Don’t allow such a huge blow to self-esteem.
How Pairs and Partners usually work:
One partner talks and the other listens, possibly taking notes. The teacher calls time and asks the listening partner to take her/ his turn talking. Many modifications are possible and are described below. Times can be as short as 30 seconds and as long as 2-4 minutes.
Opening Day: 
Introductions in pairs. This is quick, easy, and effective. The partners introduce each other, using some general criteria (name, major, etc.) and some question which may be specific to the content of the class (“Why did you take this class?” for a literature class is boring but informative). Allow use of notes because some may be terrified of speaking in class. Every single person talks during class on the first day!! Very important for developing community.
First Day in computer lab:

It is great to have partners work together on the first day in the computer lab. Try to pair experts with relatively-inexperienced users. 

Regularly throughout the quarter when difficult or complicated material has been presented (or even just read – this can be a first exercise of the day). 

One partner explains what is CLEAR in the material (lecture or reading) and what QUESTION(s) she/he still has. The other partner does the same. They then decide on ONE point that they agree is clear and ONE question. They will then present these points and questions to the general class – either by writing them on the board in a “storm the board” format or by turning in notecards or by simply saying them when called upon. 

Reflective Listening: Very good for when you are teaching paraphrasing:
Give first partner one minute to tell the most important idea form the reading assigned for that day (or what she/ he remembers from the previous class if she/ he can’t remember the reading). At 1 minute, the second partner needs to PARAPHRASE the ideas of the first partner, trying her/ his best to use all her/ his own words. Then they switch, with the second partner giving “content” and the first partner paraphrasing. This can also be done with personal experiences or connections to readings – and the personal may be preferable because the partner must work even harder to listen. 

Early quizzes¸ analytical-evaluative quizzes and in-class assignments:
To take the stress away from quizzes, and to enhance critical thinking, it is sometimes good to allow partners for quizzes and in-class assignments. Be certain that the questions will really make the students THINK because the give-and-take as they consider opinion or application or analysis questions will enhance the learning experience. There is not much point in allowing partners for simple quizzes with right-wrong answers. 

When I use pair or partner exercises:

Whenever I see the students’ eyes beginning to glaze over or other evidence of lack of attention, I think of doing a quick pair-partner exercise. It is a quick and easy way to focus attention and to re-energize the class. It also helps me to see what people are actually learning and where they have questions.

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