Think-Pair-Share: How to Lead Engaging Discussions

think pair shareLeaders must lead engaging discussions. Rallying people always involves conversations that elicit their feedback and encourage their participation. Whether you’re a pastor, a kids ministry teacher or a small group leader, you must lead engaging discussions. One of the most helpful tools for this is “think-pair-share.”

First a story…

About 11 years ago I was helping lead a college ministry and throughout the summer we had a number of events called “summer gatherings” (creative, huh?). Our topic related to Christian Hedonism and the glory of God and I was in charge of leading one of the first gatherings.

We were talking about some BIG things. Deep things. And I just dove in, asking the group of 30-40 collegians right off the bat what they thought about why God created everything, where we find our greatest joy and a bunch of other stuff.

Crickets. Nobody spoke. Well, except for one guy who was the smartest in the room, had been high school valedictorian and went on to earn a theological degree. He was happy to participate, but his participation only made everyone else feel stupid and they withdrew even more. It was a rough night.

Fortunately, my mom was visiting and was in attendance. She’s an experienced school teacher and trainer with The Write Tools, and she said, “I think I have something that will help you: think-pair-share.”

She was right. We used think-pair-share the next week and it was shockingly different. Everyone engaged. Even the timid folks got involved. It was a game-changer. I’ve used it ever since.

How does think-pair-share work?

1. Think. The leader asks a question and gives everyone a few moments to quietly think about their answer. They may even want to write some thoughts down. Few people are instant processors, so this gives them time to gather their thoughts. This is crucial because often the leader has spent hours, days or weeks thinking of an answer to the question and then expects people to engage after thinking about it for two seconds. This stage also gets everyone involved rather than people disengaging because they know the over-eager person in the group will do the thinking for them.

2. Pair. The leader then instructs everyone to turn to a partner and share their thoughts. Sharing with one person is a much easier first step than sharing with the group. This gives them a chance to compare ideas as well as builds confidence that their thoughts are not crazy.

3. Share. Now the leader invites the entire group to share their answers. By this time, everyone has had multiple opportunities to process and confidence is strong. Many good ideas emerge rather than just one quick-thinking person dominating the conversation.

I have found think-pair-share to be crazy simple and shockingly effective. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


Published by Luke Simmons

I was born and raised in Denver, CO and lived there through high school. Then I moved to Champaign, IL where I attended the University of Illinois and played on the Fighting Illini baseball team. I was married in December, 2001 to Molly, who I met at the U of I. In June of 2002, we moved to Phoenix and have been here ever since.

5 thoughts on “Think-Pair-Share: How to Lead Engaging Discussions

  1. This is very good.

    Especially the line about most of us not being instant processors. Nothing wrong with that. But the sad thing is that many of us are instant communicators and are overly eager to speak before having thoroughly processed information.

    Also appreciated the point about communicators being given hours if not weeks to process info yet we sometimes expect people to have an answer within minutes of being presented new info. Challenging and convicting.

    1. Thanks bud. Many of us are instant communicators…contrary to Scripture’s instruction to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” Much growth needed there.

  2. This product delivers as promised, with a side benefit. For those groups that meet regularly it quickens relationship building too.

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