Ready for an In-class Sharing Reset? Try the “TRI” Method!

Three students work together while laughing in library

Now that many of us have returned to in-person teaching, how can we maximize the setting and incorporate an adapted student-to-student learning structure to support in-class sharing activities? Instead of using an in-class model in which one person shares with the whole class (one at a time), or using a pair-share method, consider a reset and try the use of trios. 

The “TRI” method:

  1. Assign trios in advance (ideally purposefully, but randomly-generated trios work, too).
  2. Assign sharing order and trio roles in advance (see suggestions below).
  3. Provide a time frame for each trio, including the time limit for each sharing person.
PersonSharing OrderAdditional Responsibility
1FirstTrio Norms Facilitator
2SecondTimekeeper and Process Observer
3ThirdDiscussion Leader (after all have shared)

Next, touch base with the entire class to ensure that everyone knows which group they are in, as well as their roles and sharing order. Important: Begin class by discussing what each additional responsibility “leader” needs to do in each trio. Do this one responsibility at a time, eliciting students’ ideas. 

ResponsibilityExamples of possible student-generated ideas and role definition
SharerGives a purpose for listening, viewing, and participating, such as, “I am presenting on XYZ.” Listens to compare ABC.
Norms FacilitatorSeeks student-generated ideas such as, “Attend to sharer. Be present. Be curious. Engage respectfully.”
Process ObserverLeads discussion on norms being adhered to in the group, asking after each presenter, “How well did the trio adhere to the norms? Are any new norms needed?”
TimekeeperOffers a two-minute warning and signals that time is up for each sharer. Signals the next sharer.
Discussion LeaderFollowing all three sharing presentations, the discussion leader invites questions and models question stems like, “How? Why? Can you explain?”

Why try the TRI method?

Foster positive student-to-student engagement:  We know that undergraduate and graduate students take a lot of time to prepare materials for class presentations and that students like learning from their peers! As we return to in-person classes, students likely will value this structure as an opportunity to build positive relationships while learning. The Norms Facilitator is critical for leading the group to develop norms for engagement within the trio.

Center equity:  The TRI method can help provide a structure for supporting your goals for an inclusive classroom.  Students’ sense of belonging can increase in classes when they are positioned as capable, knowledgeable learners. All students are engaged in leadership roles in the trio, not just some.  When you repeat the TRI method in another class period, be sure to rotate the roles and responsibilities.

Provide opportunities to continue to develop interpersonal skills:  The nature of this trio-format structure allows all of us in the class to enhance our active listening skills, including the instructor. The Process Observer supports the role-sharing so everyone is heard.  I benefit, too. Because of the TRI method, I can fully listen and learn with the students because I am able to focus on them and the content they are sharing rather than managing class processes.

Recent examples of opportunities I have used this process include:

  1. Sharing and coaching for problems of practice – Members of the triad were asked to listen and to respond within the trio by asking questions of the sharer and specifically NOT offering solutions. Rather, the TRI method served to provide a structure for reinforcing one of our course beliefs which is that students are capable thinkers but can benefit from active listening and reflective questioning. The process observer role was key in helping the group reflect and adhere to the “no solutions” rule!
  2. Creating student-generated rubrics for class and homework assignments – Within the triad, members were asked to share content, and process and product expectations for given assignments or projects.  This fostered student self-assessment, as well as the development of shared class expectations. Students serving in the listening role were asked to listen for congruence and variance from others’ perspectives to bring to the larger discussion. Time-keepers were essential with this process, as was the discussion leader.

I hope you give this a TRI!

Dr. Katherine Orlando is a lecturer and the graduate program director for the Department of Instructional Leadership and Professional Development at Towson University.