3 Advantages of pair work

There are some clear advantages to using pair work in the classroom (Figure 1). These include:

  • giving more students the opportunity to speak about a science idea, share ideas and develop their scientific understanding
  • enabling students to learn from each other
  • giving students a degree of privacy and allowing them to try ideas in a less public forum
  • giving responsibility for learning to the student
  • helping shy and reserved students gain confidence in their ability to take part in lessons
  • giving you as the teacher space and the opportunity to gather evidence of those who understand and those who may need extra support
  • the opportunity to intervene and help students increase their knowledge and confidence as you interact with pairs discreetly.
Figure 1 Students feeding back after talking in pairs.

Pair work does not need to be limited to one stage of the lesson. Students can be put in pairs for a great variety of tasks, which may include:

  • discussion
  • checking answers
  • thinking about a problem
  • generating ideas about a question or issue
  • reading to one another about a topic and exploring its meaning.

You can also play a game together to practise and reinforce learning.

Some teachers argue that collaborative work reduces individual thought. But many suggest that in fact it does just the opposite, and that interaction is crucial to promoting individual thought. Vygotsky (1978) says that the construction of knowledge is not an isolated individual task, but that learning is a social process. Understanding an idea or concept appears first in a social setting; as the student agrees with the idea, it is then absorbed into the student’s individual understanding. The social process of building ideas together is key to learning and stimulating thinking for all students in different ways, so providing such opportunities is essential. Read the key resource ‘Involving all [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ for more detail to help you plan and use these ideas of supporting all learners in your lessons.

Activity 3: Ways of using pair work

Think how you could use pair work in other classes you teach, as well as what different ways you could use it to support the diverse learning needs of your students. Note down some of your ideas and use these over the next few weeks to build up your confidence with this strategy in the classroom.

Video: Involving all

2 Using pair work in the classroom

4 Using peer assessment