Ephesus Literacy Newsletter

February/March 2016

Maximizing Student Engagement with Collaborative Pairs

Is "Turn and Talk" your go-to method for generating discussion? Want to get even more out of "talk?" We know that learning is enhanced when it is a social activity (Bandura & Vygotsky); however, not all talk sustains learning. Our Learning-Focused work encourages the use of Collaborative Pairs instead of Turn and Talk.

So, What Is It?

Collaborative Pairs is a learning strategy where students are paired during instruction in order to think together about the information they are learning (www.learningfocused.com). Teachers use this organizational tool to group students for the purpose of increasing engagement and accountability. While pairing students strategically creates a social context for sharing ideas and thinking, it also limits a learner's ability to disengage. It is difficult to opt-out of a pair.

Things to consider

Benefits of Collaborative Pairs

  • Increases student achievement - for ALL learners
  • Helps students apply new knowledge and retain new information
  • Creates a social setting and safe environment for testing out ideas
  • Teaches collaboration and cooperation
  • Energizes learning - reduces teacher talk, increases student participation
  • Exposes students to perspectives other than their own
  • Excellent, quick formative assessment tool for teachers

Collaborative Pairs in Action

Watch the video below to see a third grade classroom using collaborative pairs to explore character traits. Notice that "front to back partners" know exactly what to and with whom to do it, and conversations stay focused on the topic.
Collaborative Pairs - 3rd Capps
At the end of Collaborative Pair work, it is important to summarize observations. In this video, the teacher shares what she heard during specific conversations between partners. You can build in another level of accountability by randomly selecting a few students to share his/her partner's thinking.

This piece of the video doesn't show it, but following the Collaborative Pair conversations, Ms. Capps assigns her students a graphic organizer (t-chart labeled character traits & evidence from text) to complete independently. Because students have been actively engaged in conversation around the topic of traits and have been given time to reflect, process, practice, and clarify information with a partner, they are ready to write.

Fears & Pitfalls


Some teachers express discomfort when they first begin using strategies like Collaborative Pairs. As teachers, we get used to talking. We can feel a little "out of sorts" when the students take over the role of teacher/talker. Remember: talking cements thinking. Take advantage of the switch and LISTEN in on conversations. You'll get insight into student thinking and can quickly correct any misconceptions or highlight thoughtful insights.


Without a clear plan, Collaborative Pairs will become chaotic. Put some thought into pairings (see suggestions above) and model the behavior you wish to see (active listening, asking clarifying questions, respectfully disagreeing, etc.). Students should be taught about eye contact and encouraged to sit knee-to-knee when participating respectfully in discussion.

Connections to Accountable Talk

Accountable Talk is familiar to us and fits perfectly with Collaborative Pairs! Review, encourage, and incorporate Accountable Talks stems into academic discourse. The Institute for Learning identifies Accountable Talk as one of the Principles of Learning. As 1's and 2's work together in Collaborative Pairs, promote learning by making talk accountable to: the learning community, to accurate and appropriate knowledge, and to rigorous thinking.