Helping Children Process Information Effectively: “Wait Time” and “Think Time”

The concept of “Wait Time” as an instructional variable was formerly developed by Mary Budd Rowe back in 1972.  “Wait-time” was the period of silence between a teacher’s question and the students’ responses.  It was found that the period of silence that followed a teacher’s question and students’ completed responses, rarely exceeded 1.5 seconds in typical classrooms.  When these periods of silence where extended to at least 3 seconds, many positive things happened to students’ and teachers’ behaviours and attitudes.

(Casteel and Stahl, 1973; Rowe 1972; Stahl 1990; Tobin 1987)

For example, when students are given 3 or more seconds of undisturbed “wait-time,” there are certain positive outcomes:

a)  The length and correctness of their responses increase.

b)  The number of their “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreases.

c)  The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students increases

d)  The scores of students on academic achievement tests tend to increase.

Why these dramatic changes?

The silence allows the students (and the teacher) to complete “on-task” thinking.  The 3 seconds is the minimum to provide enough time for the student to complete the cognitive tasks needed for a particular situation.

The typical teacher pauses, on the average, between 0.7 and 1.4 seconds after his/her questions before continuing to talk or permitting a student to respond. When teachers perceive a student as being slow or unable to answer, this period of time is frequently less than .7 seconds. Post-teacher question wait-time occurs when a period of 3 or more seconds of uninterrupted silence follows a teacher’s question, so that students have sufficient uninterrupted time to first consider and then respond to the query. To be most effective, this period of silence should follow a clear, well-structured question with the cues students need to construct adequate answers. Conversely, extended periods of silence following imprecise questions tend to increase the confusion, heighten the frustration, and lead to no response at all.

Think Time

“Think time” is a short time period, ten seconds, after a question has been asked but before the student answers.  It gives the student time to think, then to process and formulate an appropriate response.  Think time helps to level the playing field in situations where the same students seem to monopolize answering or a student needs to learn to actually “think” before answering.


Direct a question at a student but add, “I want you to think about your answer for 10 seconds before answering”.

Count in your head, one thousand, two one thousand until you get to ten. It will seem like an eternity – hang in there – stay calm.  Some students will attempt to answer before the 10 seconds is up – don’t let them.

Direct a question at the whole class but add, “I don’t want anyone to raise their hand for 10 seconds”.  Time them.  After a while you will not have to tell them as it will become habit and it is a good habit to get into.  If adults practiced this there would be a lot less misunderstanding.

  •  This is a good practice for parents to do with their children as well.  Often children see adults answering questions almost instantaneously and they feel they should be able to as well.  However, adults can process information at a much faster rate than children but children do not know that.  So the next time a parent asks what they can do at home to assist you, give them this tip.