A Questioning Strategy: The Power of Wait-Time / Think-Time

If you conduct workshops with students, here’s a bit of research that can help you take your questioning techniques to a higher level.

Research by Mary Budd Rowe at Columbia University found that the average amount of time a teacher waits between asking a question and calling on a student to answer is one second. When wait-time is very short like this, students have little time to think about their response.  They tend to give short answers or are prone to say, “I don’t know.”  However, when “wait-time” or “think-time” (teachers waiting while students think) is extended to between three and five seconds, the student outcomes are remarkable:

  • The length of students’ responses increase.
  • The number of students’ “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreases.
  • The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.

There are actually two crucial periods for wait-time/think-time. The first is after you pose a question. The second is after a student responds to your question. The first wait-time interval is important to allow students to consider a question and formulate a response. The second wait-time interval is crucial to encouraging that student to continue his/her response or for another student to extend the idea.

Suggestion: the next time you do a workshop, record it. When you play it back, document the questions you asked and how long you waited for a response from the students.  How’d you do on “wait-time”?  Do you need to give students more time to think?

7 Comments on “A Questioning Strategy: The Power of Wait-Time / Think-Time”

  • That is great info and advice, Alexis. It’s so easy to move too fast (in a class or in ANY conversation), and that research shows exactly why one shouldn’t. I will be much more aware of wait time in all areas of life, methinks!

  • I think “awareness” is the key here. The more aware we are of our actions, the better!

  • Nice reminder and good way to put our knowledge of brain research to practical use, Alexis.

    Another method that I have piggy-backed with this suggestion is a variation of “turn and talk”. Before answering the question, they turn to a neighbor and talk about their ideas for an answer or briefly brainstorm together. Then they answer as a team. This helps get the thought juices flowing and engages the shy child that might never raise his/her hand.

    But Alexis is right. Preface your question with, “I am going to ask a question, and I want you to take a ‘thinking moment’ before answering. I will let you know when the floor is open for answers.” and then ask your question. Write the question on the board while they are thinking for those children who do not process well auditorily.

    Another idea from my classroom that is fun if you are in a small group setting or in a single classroom is a Silent Chalk Talk. This is timed…3 minutes. You write the question on the board…something open-ended that can have multiple answers/opinions as well as stimulate further questions. The students have 3 minutes to respond. They come to the whiteboard and write their responses all over the board in the form of a statement or question. They can comment on the original question or on other comments. No one is allowed to speak until the 3 minutes is over. Then you debrief with discussion over what is on the board.

  • Hi Patricia – Thanks for extending the “wait-time” strategy into examples of “Turn and Talk” and “Silent Chalk Talk.” I can tell that you are a master teacher as well as a writer! I find that what you call “Turn and Talk” works especially well when I do teacher workshops, since teachers have so little time to talk with other adults during the day. It’s also a great ice-breaker. Just one clarification, though. As in Mary Budd Rowe’s “wait-time” research, I don’t announce it to the kids, I just do it. They catch onto the rhythm within a couple of questions and open up. I love that you are taking into consideration those kids who learn through different avenues. So much of what we do is through sound. Visual input is so important!

    Cheers,
    ALEXIS

  • Thanks for the reminders. I know I tend to rush when I am speaking.

  • I do, too, Leslie! I have to slow myself down. In one of the workshops I do with kids, I have them observe a photo and “wonder” about it for a one silent minute. That minute (which I have on a timer) feels like a half-hour sometimes! It shows how hurry-up we all tend to be — and how scary silence has come to be in our noisy world.

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