Wait Time: Questions and Thinking
Time For Students

Wait Time

What is Wait Time?

When a teacher asks a question they will need to wait for student(s) to respond with an answer.

Wait time is essentially the amount of time the teacher waits before expecting a response from the students.

The term wait time was coined by Mary Budd Rowe in her 1972 article, ‘Wait-time and rewards as instructional variables, their influence in language, logic and fate control.’

How Long Do Teachers Wait After Asking a Question?

Rowe observed many teachers in the classroom and concluded that the average wait time provided by teachers was one-and-a-half seconds.

She even found wait times as low as one tenth of a second.

Does More Wait Time Improve Student Answers?

Yes, more wait time equals more thinking time. 

Therefore, the more wait time a teacher allows the more time students have to think about an appropriate response. 

Wait time can really be thought of as ‘thinking time’, and by only allowing such short periods of time for students to think and respond the teachers in this study were denying students time to think and generate new learning opportunities.

When Rowe asked teachers to increase their wait time to 3 seconds, she was able to demonstrate positive enhancements in both student and teacher behaviour and attitudes.

It was proposed that the additional wait time not only allowed more time to think but also provided students with a chance to take risks.

Although Rowe’s study was conducted in the 1970s, multiple observational studies have been conducted since and all have reported broadly similar results.

It is therefore worrying that teachers are still typically exhibiting the same low wait times from the 1970s until the present day. 

For example, Brooks and Brooks (2001) found that short wait time did not provide teachers with accurate information about their students’ knowledge and understanding and Cohen et al. (2004) recommend wait times of 3-5 seconds for closed questions and up to 15 seconds for open questions.

These findings suggest that teachers need to slow down the pace of their lessons when asking questions and allow students more time to think and take risks.

Short wait times may be a result of a fear of ‘losing the class’ if silence creeps in, or the common direction given the teachers that their lessons should progress at a suitable pace and students need to be active and engaged at all times.

The silence that occurs when students are allowed time to think is fine and students will be engaged.

Teachers and students should not be fearful of short period of silence and should place more value of thinking time for students when asking questions.


My Top 5 Questioning Techniques for Teachers: Generate More Discussion and Debate

If you are interested in finding out what my favourite questioning techniques are you should check our the article above.

My Top 5 Questioning Techniques for Teachers

Author: Jonathan Sandling