Wait Time

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Questioning.

What is it and how does it work?

Wait Time is about allowing students time to think before answering. If we find they are not productive with that time, we can narrate them towards productivity.

Typically teachers wait just a second, maybe two, before taking an answer from learners, this habit causes many limitations; any answers we do get are likely lacking in depth and richness, it encourages students to respond with the first thing that comes to mind instead of considering the merits of a response or the evidence required to form it, and also it means that a poor answer will mean further time has to be spent correcting or deconstructing was has been offered.

Ideally the purpose and aim of Wait Time is actually thinking time. Implementing it can be more difficult than it first seems, as it requires discipline and, often, breaking habits. Even so once the teacher has got to grips with waiting, there is no certainty that learners are using this time to actually think!

Wait Time is Think Time in the Secondary Classroom | Classroom ...

Wait Time as a supplement to questioning in this context work for ‘hands-up’ style approaches but with some key considerations. The following steps are intended to direct and remind students to think while you wait in order to make Wait Time productive as a technique:

  1. Narrate Hands: Wait Time is only effective if students engage with the material after the wait time is over, so in classrooms where students do not participate well as a matter of course, or there is a reluctance to contribute to a sea of hands in the air then there is the need to address the motivational issues in the room. Narrating hands is one way to build momentum and challenge this; say you have posed your question, and you get a couple of hands in the air, at best, others stare vacantly or look as if they are surprised you genuinely expect them to get involved! Your goal is to show that “yes, yes I do want you involved”. Make a point of counting the hands up in the room…“one!”“two, now three willing to have a go, good!”….perhaps add incentive to those who are hesitant…“I want to see ten willing hands at least for this question!”. If they don’t budge from two or three and you really want more participation in your room then insist on everyone putting their hands down, spending 15-20 seconds going back to their notes or source materials to help with answers and go again…“now, let’s see those hands!”. This is about building a participation culture in rooms that don’t have it so work on this time and time again, week after week and it will change things.
  2. Prompt Thinking: Once participation rates, and the expectation of raising hands sets in with a class, we need to move them on to using their thinking skills during that Wait Time. You can do this through what you say during the time between asking the question and accepting a response, for example:
    • “I can see people are thinking hard about this one, I will give you more time to do that”
    • “I notice a few people are looking back through notes to see if they can find anything useful, that seems a great idea”
    • “I’m waiting for someone who can connect this idea to ‘X’…”
    • “This is a challenging question so you deserve to have the time to think and improve your answers here”
  3. Provide Some Quiet Time: It is important to provide some steer and encourage participation as above, however ensure a moment of silence to allow students to then organise and rehearse answers in the mind. This can sometimes be one of the most difficult steps as we are great at filling silences! There are several ways we can support ourselves to keep quiet, such as:
    • Counting to ten in your head/counting the hands up in the room in your head.
    • Repeat the question to yourself in your head slowly, two or three times.
    • Think of the follow up question you’d ask to stretch the class when you get the correct answer.
    • Walk the room and pick a spot where you will stop and take the answer.
  4. Make the Wait Time Transparent: It can help to give a suggestion of ‘how much time’ will be spent waiting for an answer, based on how long you would like the class to be thinking about (it can indicate how much depth you want too). In this way don’t leave the pause and lull down to guess work where they anticipate how long they have to fill. State clearly “we will take an answer in 20 seconds…” or similar.

The ‘Teach Like A Champion 2.0’ book has some useful companion video clips of teachers in action using this approach (login/account required). If you would like to discuss this please speak with Ashley Loynton (MACS Office 129 loyntona5@hwbcymru.net)

Associated further reading and references:

  • Lemov, D., 2015. Teach Like A Champion 2.0. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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