Wait Time Strategy

Extending the Silence

What do you believe is the typical amount of time that professors pause after asking a question?

Many studies have been conducted on this topic since the 1970s, examining the impact that teachers’ pauses after asking a question have on students’ understanding. As a result of my extensive travels throughout the United States and other regions of the world, I’ve discovered that, with a few exceptions, these studies are still relevant today. Taking a three-second or longer break, for example, has been shown to have a significant favorable influence on learning, according to research conducted by Mary Budd Rowe in 1972 and Robert J. Stahl in 1994. Teachers’ pauses, on the other hand, were found to be on average 0.9 seconds in duration.


This phenomenon has been noticed in several classrooms, and there is an urgent need to enhance the number of time students is given to process what they already know and to make sense of what they do not comprehend.

Process and learning preference are the most important factors to consider while differentiating training. The process is the method by which students make sense of concepts, formulate their thoughts, and create a reasoned response. In the case of questions addressed to the entire class, learning preference relates to how some students prefer to silently analyze the knowledge, keeping their own counsel (Internal Thinkers), while others prefer to communicate or express their thinking with an audience as a sounding board (External Thinkers) (External Thinkers).

When it comes to External Thinkers, those go-to kids who can be counted on to speak within the first three seconds of a class meeting, it’s possible that they are molding their ideas as they speak—they haven’t had enough time to completely digest their thoughts but are speaking up regardless. Meanwhile, the Internal Thinkers have likewise had little time to process, but they do not feel comfortable replying since they do not feel comfortable.

One approach is for teachers to take a five- to fifteen-second break before calling on children to participate. Some people may find the stillness to be painfully long. Consider, however, that the world’s fastest male and female 100-meter sprinters race in or under 10 seconds, depending on the gender. The world record is less than 10 seconds, which is a short period. Wouldn’t it be better if students were given a similar amount of time to contemplate their solutions to topics that required in-depth thought?


Provide a waiting period: Students should be given five to fifteen seconds to construct a response to a question to which they should already know the response. Every learner has a different processing speed when it comes to thinking. The content of the response, rather than the speed with which it is delivered, should be used to judge its quality.

I mentally count down from 15 to zero. The majority of the time, I receive responses within 10 to 12 seconds. Rather than asking for volunteers, you can call on students if you don’t receive any responses within 15 seconds.

Allow pupils 20 seconds to two minutes to think about and make sense of topics that demand analysis to synthesize concepts into a distinct construct or frame of reference. To assist with this, encourage writing, silent reflection, and group discussions with your partner(s). Giving students such large blocks of time recognizes the amount of work that has been demanded of them. If the learners respond quickly, likely, the inquiry did not challenge their existing knowledge. Any student may be called upon to present their response after the stipulated time has expired.

Instruct students on the importance and practice of reflection by coaching them through the process. Educators and pupils may be uncomfortable with quiet, which is why the standard one-second pause period is used. Silence may be associated with the absence of any action.

Providing students with systematic techniques to practice thinking as well as explicit instructions on what they should do during the silent time can help them become more effective during reflection. When it comes to reflection and collaborative communication, Think From the Middle is a collection of ways that students can use to sharpen their thinking processes.

Educate students on how to manage a conversation: It’s a great sight to see students engaging in serious discussions about subjects that blend academics with real-world applications. Establish a culture in which students are encouraged to participate in such discussions, and they will soon be performing the majority of the heavy lifting throughout the session.

One very effective approach that I’ve seen in Michigan and Texas is the usage of a guide for student-led conversation prompts called Talk Moves. These conversation stems give students with communication skills that they can use to participate in and maintain dialogues. I’ve seen them in action in science classes that are implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, and they’re equally effective in courses across all subject areas.

Students select the beginning stem that they believe will best support the issue under discussion. Schools and educators utilize Talk Moves to coach and guide students through several stages of complicated thinking by steering students toward certain areas within a collection of conversation prompts. The goal is for students to take ownership of the dialogue, which strengthens their ability to comprehend topics and gain comprehension.


We want kids to develop into self-directed learners who are capable of navigating difficult material and circumstances. Students learn at varying rates, which appears to have less to do with intelligence and more to do with the time constraints placed in the way of learning. Although timed responses and answering questions under the constraint of a clock have their place, there are no standards stating that pupils should be able to comprehend topics in less than one second.

When asked to add to a conversation, most people require ample time to digest their thoughts before they can contribute. Life is not a 30-minute game show with rapid-fire questions requiring low-level responses and commercial interruptions. It is not a game show with commercial breaks. Even if it were possible, it would take time to develop and perfect the necessary processing skills to be competitive.