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Equitable classrooms: Wait-time can benefit students

Research is showing that students may require more time to answer questions in the classroom than teachers are giving them.

Dr. Mary Budd Rowe, recognized nationally as a science education innovator, is credited with the concept of “wait-time” as an instructional variable. Wait-time is the period of silence that follows a teacher’s question before a student responds. Research demonstrates that educators practice very little wait-time, frequently less than one second. But students require a longer uninterrupted period of time to think about what has been asked and to formulate a response.

Rowe discovered that when students are given at least three seconds of silent wait-time before being asked to respond, they benefit:

  • The number of students responding, “I don't know" decreases.
  • The number of students who have no response decreases.
  • Greater numbers of students volunteer appropriate answers.
  • Academic achievement test scores tend to increase.

Teachers also benefit from waiting silently for three or more seconds:

  • Teachers’ questioning strategies become more varied and flexible.
  • The quantity of questions decreases, but the quality and variety of questions increases.
  • Questions that require more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students increases.

Generally, three seconds is considered the minimum amount of wait-time. Giving students five to 10 seconds to think following a question may be appropriate in certain situations.

So next time you ask a question, stop and count to three—or more. Your students may benefit from a little extra time.


Last Updated: 11/17/2008