notes on learning, design, tools, & life

Do, pair, share

One of my favorite activities to use in class is a short sequence of “do, pair, share.” Some teacher friends introduced me to the idea, and you can find some version of it anywhere teachers congregate, often going by the name “think, pair, share” or “write, pair, share.”1

I first started using this approach in my design classes in 2015. I was skeptical at first. I had tried a couple of strategies before, recommended to me by teachers who were used to working with kids—like cold calling, and keeping a visible timer on the projector—and these seemed condescending to adult learners. I had the same doubt about “do, pair, share,” and I felt uncomfortable the first several times I tried it. But—I could almost immediately see the benefits, and it motivated me to practice and improve my approach.

Now I use it all the time. It’s the first thing I reach for when I have a doubt about what students understand, or when I want to get everyone participating in a brainstorm. I also find it helpful in meetings, workshops, and retrospectives—it’s a flexible tool. Try it with anything that participants could spend a few minutes doing independently, and get the ideas flowing.


Participants perform a short task alone, then compare with a partner, and finally share with the whole group.
To get everyone involved in a discussion; to discover the current level of understanding of the whole group.
Materials Needed
Writing and drawing tools, plus any materials needed for the task
Time Required
10–20 minutes

How to do it

Steps Suggested time
Give participants the short activity or question you’d like them to answer, with a time limit for how long they have to work alone. 1–2 minutes
As participants complete the activity, observe what they are writing or drawing to see how everyone is doing. 2–5 minutes
When time is up, ask participants to get together with a partner to discuss what they did and compare notes. 1 minute
Again, observe each pair as they discuss to check how they are doing. 2–5 minutes
Ask for volunteers or call on pairs to share what they came up with with the whole group. 5–10 minutes

Example use

At the beginning of a lesson on planning user interviews, I like to give students a prompt such as, “Imagine that you will be doing research to learn more about people’s movie and series watching habits. Take 2 minutes to write down at least 3 different things you’d be curious to find out.” After the activity, as partners share their questions, I can collect these on a shared board, to use as a starting point for the next part of the lesson.

Considerations for use

Considerations for use in person

Considerations for use in remote

Additional resources

  1. I prefer “do” to “write” or “think”. Thinking is an active process, but as a facilitator, it’s difficult to observe people thinking. Asking participants to write down ideas or explain something in their own words is a great use of this technique, but I find it equally useful to ask people to draw, diagram, pseudo-code, construct… You get the idea. So the generic “do” it is.