In this world of instant gratification, do your students struggle with waiting?

Wait time can be difficult to implement in your classroom for several reasons, but I would say one of the biggest reasons is that from the time children are babies, they are not taught to wait anymore. When is the last time you saw a crying baby in line at the grocery store? It’s rare nowadays to see that, because if the kid starts fussing, a grown-up hand them a device to make them stop.

What is Wait Time?

Picture yourself in front of your class. You ask a question. Then what?


That silence while the students think about your question is called wait time, or think time. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the average wait time was 1.5 seconds. Believe it or not, it’s been dropping ever since. Why? Because teachers feel rushed and so do their students.

What should you be shooting for? The optimal wait time is at least 3 seconds. You may have to work up to that, but it is worth it. But wait time isn’t only for when you ask the students a question. There should be another 3 seconds of wait time after the student answers.

Why Does Wait Time Matter?

Research* has proven that wait time not only improves the answer by the student who has been called upon, but it improves the answers of all the students. If you call on that student who raises his or her hand within a fraction of a second, nobody else has a chance to formulate an answer in their mind.

If you always call on the quickest of your students and the other students don’t have time to really think about the question, those quick students will be more likely to advance to the next concepts while the slower students struggle to stay engaged.

Not only does it benefit the students to have more wait time, but it also benefits you as the teacher. When you give every student the opportunity to think through the answer to a question, you get a better glimpse of what your students are capable of. It also improves your question asking skills.

Think time allows you as a teacher to ask better, more open-ended questions of your students and it allows your students to formulate better, more complete answers to your questions.

How to Implement Wait Time

I know you may be thinking, “Jeanette, that sounds so hard! Won’t it be awkward to implement this?”

It could certainly be awkward if you don’t tell them first what you are doing. I like to tell my students at the beginning of the year, when everything is fresh and new, what I am going to be doing. I like to use an example from outside the classroom when I explain it to them.

Have you ever been working on a puzzle and someone comes along and puts in the piece you were looking for? Do you ever feel that way in class, especially Math class? You’re thinking, and you’ve almost got the answer, but there goes that kid who always has the answer in .63 seconds. And you were so close…”

You just explain that you want every student to have a chance to be successful and to understand every concept before moving on. Not just the fastest ones, but everyone.

Wait Time After a Student Answers

Maybe you see the benefits of wait time before allowing a student to answer, but you fail to see how waiting after the answer can be helpful.

Do you remember sitting in class and someone else answering a question right before you came to what you thought was the correct answer, but it turns out your answer was wrong? This happens every day in classrooms and this is where those 3 seconds after s student answers come into play.

If their answer is different than your answer, you have a few seconds to go back over your answer in your head and figure out if you did it wrong. You aren’t just swept along with the rest of the class to the next thing if you didn’t quite grasp that one.

Now if the answer given is totally wrong, I do say something immediately in order to head off any confusion. But for correct answers, I want each student to process that answer and how we arrived at it before we move on.

Ask for Feedback

I think it is super important to ask for my students’ feedback on the systems I use in my classroom. So I highly recommend that you tell your students that you are going to ask for their feedback on the system in 2 weeks and again in 2 months.

I don’t just take their feedback though, I give some of my own. If they are having trouble waiting the 3 seconds to toss out answers, I may go to a system where I hold up my fingers and silently count to 3. This is just for students that continue to interrupt and I try to limit how much I use this technique.

You can give feedback multiple times a day during the first couple of introductory weeks and then do it less and less as the weeks go on.

I hope this has shown you the value of wait time to improve student engagement, their answers and communication skills, and their thinking skills. It will improve your teaching skills and your ability to assess who is getting the concept and who isn’t.

This week, try using wait time in your classroom. Tell your students what you are doing and get their feedback at the end of the week. And be sure to pop back in and leave a comment telling me how it went for you!