How long do you think the average teacher pauses after asking a question?
Several studies from the 1970s looked at this question and the results were astonishing. Despite what we might think, the average wait time from teachers was 0.9 seconds.
The same study found that when educators leave a period of silence between posing a question and calling on a student to respond, students are more likely to volunteer appropriate answers and less likely to say “I don’t know”. They also found that pausing for three or more seconds showed a noticeable positive impact on learning.
I have anecdotally observed this within my own teaching. When I give students time to think about the question I have asked, there is a noticeable increase in the depth of responses – if I give students time. I also find that I get responses from the more introverted/quiet students within my class.
Students need time to absorb new information, think about how it relates to what they know or are learning, and then come up with an appropriate response. Students typically provide higher-level, longer responses when the teacher gives them a brief wait time. This ‘mental thinking time’ also leads to higher engagement throughout the lesson because all students consider how they would respond to a question before the teacher calls on someone to give a response.
Below are some ways to develop Wait Time within your class.
Ideas for incorporating Wait Time in your classroom
Use a ‘Wait Time’ after asking a question
After posing a question, a wait time of between three and five seconds can encourage students to give more considered answers. It gives students a chance to recall information, leading to better answers. You can also encourages students to interact with each other during this time, creating an interesting discussion that helps everyone learn.
Teach the value of reflection
Teaching and training students on the value of reflection is important. Like anything students/educators need to know the WHY behind what they are doing. Explain to students the reason for giving time for students to think about the question that has been asked. I like to also use common language – see the Talk Moves links below – so we are all on the same page.
Develop Student Wait Time within your class
This is a brief period of silence after a student answers a question. By pausing, you allow the student to reflect on their answer. This gives students an opportunity to complete or elaborate on their answers. I often prompt this in my lessons with the word ‘because’ as it forces learners to then explain themselves a little more.
Ask Open-Ended Questions to the Entire Class
Directing a question to a single student can be challenging and threatening. Just think if you would like your principal to do directly ask you questions during a staff meeting! Questions that ask “why” or “how” often provoke more thoughtful, interesting discussions than closed questions Open ended questions to the entire class are not as threatening and by allowing some ‘wait time’ you encourage everyone to think about the question and formulate their own responses.
Get Back to Me
This is great when students are unsure of an answer. If a student doesn’t know or gives an incorrect answer, say “would you like me to get back to you?”. This gives the student time to think. By going back to the student later it isn’t as threatening and enables students to piggy-back on other answers from students. This strategy gives students a chance to share their thoughts when they’re prepared.
Don’t accept the first answer – even if it is correct
I learnt this technique off a colleague of mine. Teachers tend to stop when the first learners answers correctly. By still moving around the class and getting responses you get a better range of answers and ensure students must stay engaged in the activity/discussion or learning.
To help with this process I am a fan of using TALK MOVES. It is a list of conversation starters that gives students great communication tools for participating in and sustaining discussions. I predominately use these in my maths lessons, but, they are useful in all subject area courses.