In this post we explore different ways and purposes for creating thinking routines that group students in different ways to maximize student interaction.

Written By rodaniel

On June 26, 2024

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Think-ink-pair-share in a mathematics classroom.The purpose of this post is to explore different ways and purposes for creating thinking routines that intentionally have students grouped in different ways and different purposes to enhance Thinking and Learning Framework (T&L) practices through intentional comprehensive literacy subdomains and ALM strategies. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but to provide structures for teachers to consider. 

All routines begin with content and standards. I am not articulating them as part of the initial part of this document (but will later in the lesson examples), but the first task is to identify the targeted skill/standard to be able to identify appropriate T&L Domain, practices, and expectations:

Building Community (BC), Contribute Knowledge (CK), or Think Critically (TC)

If focus is on Building Community (BC) then focus on the process, active listening, and students learning to bring something to the conversation. If students are reluctant to participate, build the expectation of what they are being asked to write so they bring more to the conversation.


If BC then…

  • implication less focus on knowledge to be contributed than students working together effectively and making certain practices explicit (i.e. accessing prior knowledge vs. knowledge from a new source):
  • get students talking
  • get students actively listening
  • students developing paraphrasing skills
  • Content is less important because focus on building routines that students understand and can replicate as well as building classroom environment 

Partner Options

Elbow Partner– Kagan Structure for students to right or left depending on how students are grouped

Face Partner similar but generally used for partners across the table

Clock Partners are just a grouping structure:

  • 4 partners 
  • Teacher can choose some (between 1-3) to ensure variety of interactions
  • recommended to include student voice/choice in at least 1 if not 2 groupings

Stand-up, Hand-up, Pair-up a Kagan strategy that is less structured that provides extensive student voice and choice, coupled with students standing and moving (which provides a kinesthetic component as well as a spacing aspect)

Individual partner Routines

Step 1 Think-Ink (prompt with think time and ink expectation)

– build this expectation for those more resistant students (create a safe environment to build value and comfort/community), it may not be complete sentences but might be bullet points to begin with.

– limit time and build stamina as the year goes on. If students are struggling with 2-3 minutes then build stamina over time. 

Individual Partners Shares 

Elbow Partners/Face Partners/Clock Partner

  • An important mediating step when asking whole group questions to provide more students the opportunity to answer as well as provide for more thoughtful answers.  
  • students share their writing with the assigned partner, not limited to just reading but use dialogue to expand/extend their thinking. Writing is designed to get students organizing their thinking, not necessarily developing complete answers. 
  • Important that all students are provided time to share (either build the expectation or set time and then switch who is sharing)
  • Additional expectation to have students listen to their partner to share something they heard that they felt was important, etc. to share with the whole group after the partner share.
  • teacher walks around monitoring conversations, identify students they may want to hear from (alerting them that you would like to call on them, making it safer for them to share)

Multiple Independent Partner Shares

Give1,Get1, Clock partners, Stand-up,Hand-up,Pair-up, Block Party (see online process) with teacher directed shift

  • Partners share their thinking, listen to their partners for the purpose of exploring a complex topic or a topic with multiple correct answers (multiple details from a reading/video, etc.)
  • Important that all students are provided time to share (either build the expectation or set time and then switch)
  • Students switch partners after a set amount of time directed by teacher to provide teacher classroom management characteristics
  • Repeat the sharing process 2 to 3 times depending on the complexity of the prompt (not recommended to go beyond 3 partner shares)
  • Partners revisit their Ink to add detail, more content at the end of each share or at the end of multiple shares

Our next blogs in this series will explore the Contributing Knowledge, Thinking Critically domains and specific content area examples.