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Paired discussion

Paired discussion

Paired discussion is a teaching methodology where learners in groups of two discuss a topic or open ended question posed by the instructor. It is also called “think-pair-share”, which indicate that before a paired discussion the learners are given time to think on their own before discussing with their partners. The results of the discussion are then shared with either the whole group or another subgroup. As a variation instead the “share” part can be skipped or learners write their answers on note cards or sticky notes which are then collected (and displayed if desired). Paired discussions are a simple method to stimulate learners to explore and discover a subject as well as giving the instructor feedback on class performance.   



You will need


A topic for the students to discuss. This can be prepared in advance or formulated during class in response to students' progress and understanding.

Optional but good to have

A method to assign the pairs.

Benefits and limitations


  • easy to implement also for novice instructors
  • students are actively understanding, exploring, expanding and applying knowledge
  • instructor gets feedback on students understanding of topic and/or opinion
  • students are given a more protected setting to admit that they do not know
  • participants learn to listen to each other
  • the instructor gets some time during class to reflect on the session and consider his next step
  • it is easier for quiet and unsure students to actively participate
  • answers are usually more precise or creative as students had the opportunity to reflect and exchange their ideas


  • after each paired discussion the instructor needs to get attention back it might be challenging [link to discussion handling]
  • to handle the variety of outcomes of a paired discussion [link to discussion handling]

What do I actually do as an instructor/facilitator?

Preparation / before class

You can use paired discussions ad hoc, without preparation. However, using them for the first time prepare a set of questions and statements that could be used for a paired discussion. Open-ended questions are more likely to generate more discussion and reflection. Allow a minimum of 3 minutes for a simple paired discussion plus some time to share with the whole group if needed. When starting to routinely use paired discussions your experience will build up to optimise the questions to your audience. Slow or short paired discussions are usually an indicator of too easy or too difficult questions.

Implementation / during class

  • Pose a question or ask for learners’ opinion on a topic.
  • Give students 1-2 minutes (longer for more complicated questions) work out an answer for themselves.
  • Ask students to get together in pairs and discuss (~ 3 minutes or longer for more complicated questions)
  • Ask for responses from some or all of the pairs. Usually you should allow for some time to discuss with the whole group and to address open questions.

It might be helpful to have students count one –two – one two to assign the pairs. This can reduce the time for the pairs to find each other as well as avoiding that everybody turns to the most popular participants. If you plan to do several paired discussions during a class, you can ask them to count 1-2-3-4 and then change the partners (e.g. start with groups of 1/2 and 3/4 and next 1/3 and 2/4 etc.)If you have odd numbers either have one group of 3 you can also increase group size to 3, but if it exceeds 4 the risk is that not all students are active.

  • You can ask one partner to report back the opinion or answer of his pair. By doing so repeatedly participants learn to really listen to each other
  • You can also use paired discussions to double check that a task or assignment is fully understood. Have 1 explain 2 how the task is to be completed. Then have 2 explain 1. After that check for any uncertainties that became evident
  • It is not always necessary to have each pair sharing their answer, instead select one or a couple of pairs and then ask, whether there is anything to add or to challenge.

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