Using the Think-Pair-Share Strategy with ELL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

The think-pair-share strategy is a great way to engage students in authentic conversations with their peers. In this lesson, you will learn how to adapt this strategy for English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Think-Pair-Share: A Brief Overview

You've just finished reading a short story with your students, and now you want to check their comprehension. You've been discussing the concept of theme for several weeks now. You decide to do a think-pair-share activity. You ask your students, What do you think is the main theme of this story, and why? You instruct students to take a few minutes to think about their response and then to turn to their neighbor and discuss. After about ten minutes, you ask for volunteers to share what they came up with.

This is a classic think-pair-share activity. It's easy to use because very little planning is required; in fact, it can even be a spontaneous activity. It's also a great way to check for comprehension without having to grade a bunch of worksheets or essays.

The Benefits of Think-Pair-Share for ELL Students

Now let's look at the particular benefits of this activity for your ELL students.

  • Think-pair-share gives students an opportunity to converse with their peers, something that can drastically improve language acquisition.
  • Pairing an ELL student with just one person as opposed to an entire group might help him or her feel less threatened and encourage risk-taking. This can help boost confidence and ultimately lead to higher proficiency.
  • ELL students get a chance to check their answers with a classmate, reducing the pressure to 'get it right' on the first try. They get to hear other perspectives and measure those against their own, while getting extra time to think before they speak or write.
  • Not all students have to share with the entire class; you might want to start by asking only for volunteers. Students who are less proficient or hesitant to speak in front of a large group can still be 'heard' if their partners share with the class.

Accommodations for ELL Students

To achieve the full benefit of the activity, you may use some accommodations for your ELL students.


A variation on think-pair-share that is of particular benefit for ELL students is think-pair-write-share. After sharing ideas with a partner, the two students work together to write a summary of their discussion and then share their writing with the class. This helps ELL students practice an additional skill: writing. It also helps prepare them for sharing with the class, since their thoughts are written.

Using Sentence Frames

Sentence frames can help prepare students for a writing or speaking task. Following are some frames that ELL students might find useful for a think-pair-share activity:

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