Wait! Don't Tell Me!

When you ask your students a question, do they have enough time to respond? Studies suggest that many teachers do not allow enough time for students to go through the cognitive process of forming a correct response to questions. Let’s assume that you are an educator who asks higher level questions. How long did you take to create the questions and ensure the questions were assessing higher-order thinking skills? The process of developing the question takes time and answering a thought-provoking question also takes time.

Think Time

According to one of the most prolific researchers on the subject, Stahl (1994), the student needs enough time to:

  • process the question
    • the student evaluates the vocabulary and wording
    • the student decodes verbal and nonverbal cues from the teacher
  • form the correct response
    • the student has to reflect upon prior experience and knowledge
    • the student evaluates how the question relates to the context

The cognitive process is quite busy! Good job in exercising your students’ brains! Now, you just have to let them ponder over the question by remaining silent for at least five seconds.


When teachers give their students time to answer, researchers have seen the following benefits:

  • an increase in the amount of correct answers
  • an increase in the length of responses
  • an increase in responses from students at lower-levels
  • more interaction between students
  • a decrease in no answers and “I don’t know” responses
  • an increase in standardized test scores

English Language Learners (ELLs) especially benefit from this wait-time. ELLs often need more time to process the language than what most teachers give them. Many teachers think that the ELL does not understand the question. However, the student may just be translating the question or determining the correct wording for forming the question. In the mainstream classroom, the ELL may feel apprehensive of making mistakes in front of their peers. Please note, though, that there is a silent period transition for ELLs who first come to the country or have no English language experience.

Enjoy this short video which demonstrates the technique and benefits in action!

Your boot camp challenge for this week:

Wait at least five to seven seconds after asking your children/students a question before you respond! Record your experience in your blog or in a journal.

Do you have a strategy that works for you in educating English Language Learners in the classroom?  Please, contact me to have that strategy featured on the next What Works Wednesday blog!


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