Pair-Sharing; Ping-Pong with Derek the Nazi

Workshop debriefing: After looking into the overarching lesson aims of the inquiry exercise, here’s the nitty-gritty of the ubiquitous pair work.

Pairing students often comprise one of the stages of more complex group interaction, but also work brilliantly as a simple stand-alone prelude/follow-up to virtually any activity, as exemplified in the previous post featuring Sir Micheal Wilshaw.

This post also serves to deliver on my promise to discuss CL as a means to make complex project-based enquiry such as Mantle of the Expert less daunting to teachers fearing loss of classroom control (see original post Pandora’s Box).

Pair-share in the context of Cooperative Learning

First of all the notion that one is engaging in Cooperative Learning by letting students discuss in pairs is not a given. In my definition of structural CL, “A pre-structured group effort whose success depends on each specific member carrying out specific tasks at specific times,” one person talking at his partner for 3 minutes is not pre-structured, not a group effort and success certainly does not depend on members carrying out specific tasks.

Generally, one student will dominate the conversation and very timid students, regardless of varied partners, are likely to seize the opportunity to  not say anything, for the same reason they never put their hand up in open class. (In spite of  1-to-1 generally being a lot more conducive than 1-to-35).

Also, by micro-managing the interaction between partners, more subtle aims are achieved; various types of listening, questioning and thinking skills are brought to the fore, and one may embed different types of writing tasks, whether note-taking before, during or after the partner’s presentation, which could then be written out as a proper text and finally signed off.

Through-out the workshop, several forms of pair interaction were demonstrated, split into two basic CLIPs*:


If you read the instructions to Michael and Jakob’s class below, Ping-Pong-Pair should have some of the speed and energy of table tennis and is useful when producing ideas, recapping key points, honing skills that produce short answers, bouncing opinions or creating a controlled discussion:

All right, everybody. Turn to your shoulder-partners. Ping-Pong-Pairs, so stay concise and on-point, maximum 4 sentences per turn. Ready? … “Based on your current take on student-centred learning, assume you are the head of Ofsted and bounce some opinions back and forth”. Two minutes, go!

Here, the limit to the amount of sentences in each turn means the ball has to be passed back and forth with a certain degree of speed; this of course depending on the level of the class, the complexity of the material to be discussed, etc.

The simplest way of adding a writing element, is for students to pass a piece of paper back and forth as quickly as possible (which may also be used to create competition between teams). These can be incredibly basic – in Maths, multiplication table of X, “see how far you get in thirty seconds”; even with help from a superior partner, the less capable student still has to write out the 4×5=20, etc. Start every Maths lesson with 2 minutes of ping-pong-pairs. It’s time well spent.

In other subjects, it might be capital cities, names of romantic authors, opening lines to science fiction stories, families of animals, numbers, weekdays, months or special vocabulary in a foreign language,  the periodic table – listening in or picking up the written lists afterwards gives instant insight. Or reflection on own learning; “Ideas to make homework easier? One minute, go!” The pair/share discussed on the Religious Education/Philosophy for Children page is actually a Ping-Pong Pair.

Roleplaying Ping-Pong-Pairs

After watching the “immigrant rant” from American History X, participants did a Ping-Pong-Pair where one partner tries to talk Derek out of attacking the convenience store. This particular exercise entails “Derek” defeating all arguments with a counter-argument, regardless of conventional morals; the destructive “WHY?” in a world without cohesive narrative, chosen because this was one of the main themes of the workshop.

This video clip starts with the answer to the facilitator modelling Derek’s argument “All my friends have lost their jobs because of these Mexican border jumpers working under minimum wage” and giving a reply to the argument. Participants engage like race-horses coming out of the box:


Ping-Pong-Pairing with Derek the Nazi

(question modelling and staging instructions)

Timed Pair

In comparison Timed Pair is more calm, yet in many ways more demanding; the teacher presents a task, and in turns each partner gets an allotted timespan to present whatever it requires of findings, thoughts, opinions, ideas, solutions, before being presented with partners feedback. So going back to Michael’s example, he would have been given a chance to map out all his plans for Ofsted for two minutes, and then gotten two minutes of feedback. So teaching presentation as a ancillary skill forms a natural part class room activities, often several times in even a single lesson.

For the speaking partner, the benefit over Ping-Pong the more coherent and planned presentation, where quick thinking is required to formulate and connect key points within the time frame. For other students, filling out the time might be the challenge – a full two minutes demands more than the usual superficial answer to which many open class comments are restricted.

For the listener, the awareness of his following feedback task intensifies his listening and forces him into an ongoing analysis of the presentation to formulate questions and feedback. Note taking here is a definite option for some. A

As for social skills, attentive listening, constructive criticism (shame on you, Brenda, for making fun of Michael!), patience when partner does not understand point one is convinced are clear, helping to phrase and formulate without being intrusive, eye contact, body language, praising and thanking. All this is discussed in more detail in On the Subject of Social Skills.

Integrating with team and class interaction

Both of the above fit into any cross class and cross team information sharing situation, including open floor situations described in The Dancefloor is made of Lava and the Two-for-Tea visually described in The Teacher is a Ghost.

A generic question would be: “Share all the ideas your team has come up with so far…”



* CLIP: Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern


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Filed under Cooperative Learning, Information, integration, Multiculturalism, Tips & tricks, workshop, Workshop

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