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2.3 - STRUCTURE | PAIRED SHARING (Recommended, but optional)

This lesson covers... what it feels like to share your story with a partner, and hear your story told back to you by someone else.
By the end you should... feel more comfortable sharing about yourself, plus have a better understanding of your story outline.
Time 20 minutes
Counselor note: This section is optional, and if time is tight or you sense that students will not be open to this exercise for some reason, you may choose to skip it and move on to the next exercise.

But please read this before you decide to skip ahead: This exercise can, for some, be the most powerful moment of all in the workshop--indeed, the potentially life-changing part. Some students will be sharing their stories for the first time and having the chance to be heard and even have someone else share back their story can be affirming and empowering.

It may be useful, however, to at this point spend a minute setting the following agreements (this is assuming that you did not already set agreements at the start of the workshop):
  1. Confidentiality. Anything you hear in this room stays in this room.
  2. Listen with respect. This means being fully present with your partner (not interrupting, making jokes, looking at your phone, etc.) and listening even if you might disagree with what’s being said.
  3. Participate fully. This means that you’re willing to try this exercise even if you might feel a little discomfort. And if you feel a little discomfort, I invite you to lean into it a little bit to see what you can learn about yourself. Some of you will be inspired to share things you haven’t shared before, perhaps with anyone.
  4. Take care of yourself. This means physically--as in, go to the bathroom or get water if you need to--but this also means mentally and emotionally. So if there’s something you don’t want to share, or a mental/emotional place you just don't want to go to, then don’t.
I ask for a show of hands here: “Raise your hand if you’re willing to keep these agreements. Keep your hands raised. Everyone look around. Are all hands up? (Pause, so that everyone can see that they are. Wait, if needed.) Good. Then we’re in agreement.” This helps create a safe space.

Next, I give the instructions below:
  1. Find a partner.
  2. Decide who will go first. We’ll call this Partner A.
  3. Partner A shares a story that was revealed during the Feelings and Needs Exercise, while Partner B listens, and maybe takes notes. You’ll have just about five minutes each, so no need to give all the details, just tell your story.
This last bit--just five minutes, don’t need all the details--helps to set students at ease because it means they don't have to go into the details of their past; they're just giving the five-minute version. Note that if you’re leading a 3-hr or multi-day version of this workshop you may elect to give more than just five minutes, or skip the sharing for now and have students share their stories in the third hour, with more time.
  1. Once Partner A is finished sharing, Partner B is going to tell Partner A’s story back to Partner A. (Don’t worry, I’ll demonstrate how to do this in the video below.) This gives Partner A the chance to actually hear their own story told back to them. Once Partner B has shared back Partner A’s story, switch and repeat: 
  2. Partner B shares while Partner A listens, and maybe takes notes.
  3. Once Partner B has finished sharing, Partner A shares Partner B’s story back to Partner B.

FAQ: Should I take notes while my partner is sharing or not? 
While your partner is sharing, your main requirement is to listen carefully enough to be able to tell the story back when it’s over. Taking notes is optional. If you have a bad memory, you might take notes so you can tell the story back more accurately. But if you feel that would distract you or keep you from being present with your partner, you may choose to just listen and not take notes. 

In the video below I’ll demonstrate two other techniques (reflective listening and clarifying questions), but these are also optional. 

Note that if you choose to let students watch this video, you’ll need to add ten extra minutes here, so you’ll need to carve out time in the 2-hr version or show it only if you’re leading the 3-hr version. Watch the video and see if you feel it would be useful for them to watch.

Watch me listen to a student share his Feelings and Needs Exercise: How to Review It (Length: 9:31)

Here are two very simple techniques I demonstrate in this video:

1. Reflective listening. This involves saying back to the speaker what you heard them say.


  • At 2:17 in the video I reference some of the feelings I heard him say: “confusion, at ease”
  • At 3:09 I say “You mentioned needing stability, needing empathy and needing understanding.”
Tip: Try to use their words rather than inventing your own. (Example: If speaker says, “My father worked long hours and so he wasn’t always there for me” don’t say, “You had a bad father.”) In short, avoid too much interpretation--the point here is to let your partner know you’re listening and tracking what they’re saying.)
Tip: Watch to see if your partner is nodding as you’re saying back what you heard. (Watch Adrian give a slight nod at 2:15 and 3:15.) That’s a sign that you’re tracking what they’re saying.

2. Clarifying questions. If you’re unclear on something, don’t be afraid to ask.


  • At 0:53 in the video I ask “How so?” to learn more about how his challenge impacted him.
  • At 1:43 I say, “I’d be curious to hear more about that; what led you to feeling at ease?
Tip: Try not to sidetrack things too much--let the speaker lead--but if you want to clarify if, for example, how old your partner was when she came to the US, feel free to ask. Then be quiet and let her keep talking.

Tips for telling your partner’s story back to them:

  1. Don’t be afraid to reference their actual Feelings and Needs paper as you tell them back their story.
  2. Make eye contact, if you’re able, and watch to see if your partner is nodding as you tell the story back to them.
  3. I acknowledge when I say things that I’m making up (that are my interpretation of reality). At 7:01 I say: “You didn’t say this, but…”
  4. I affirm Adrian a couple times as he’s talking: “This was really interesting” (at 6:45) and at “It sounds like in raising him you’ve [also raised yourself] which I find really inspiring” (at 8:57).

One-Minute Reflection (Optional):
At this point, your facilitator may ask you what you discovered during this exercise. (Notice Adrian’s share at 9:10 of the video). But sharing is optional.

Once that’s done, it’s time to learn about one more way to structure your essay.

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