Wait Time and Education

Class of Students Raising Hands
Blend Images - ERproductions Ltd/ Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Wait time, in educational terms, is the time that you wait before calling on a student in class. For example, say you are in front of the class presenting a lesson on presidential terms of office, and you ask the class the question, "How many years can a president serve as president?" You give the students time to raise their hands to answer the question. The amount of time that you give students to think of the answer and raise their hands is called "wait time."

Importance of Raising Hands

In order for wait time to work, teachers must be willing to enforce the requirement that students must raise their hands to answer questions. This can be hard to enforce, especially if other teachers in the school are not requiring students to raise their hands. However, if you reinforce it every time you ask a question, students will eventually learn. Realize that it is much harder to make students raise their hands if you have not been requiring them to do so from the first day of school. However, you can get them back on track after overcoming their initial objections.

Wait time is an important concept that is often not given the time that it should be in educational articles or colleges of education. It serves a very important function. It allows students to have the time to think of their answer before raising their hands. This causes more students to be involved and has been shown to create an increase in the length and quality of student answers. Further, student-to-student interactions actually increase as students are better able to formulate their answers. As a teacher, wait time can be an uncomfortable concept at first. This is because it does not feel natural to wait as long as necessary to call on students. In fact, taking five seconds before you call on students is not a lot of time, but it can feel very long when you are the teacher. Realize, however, that it does get easier once you have instituted the policy.

How Long Should You Wait Before You Call on a Student?

What is the acceptable amount of wait time to ensure that students have the best chance to be involved? Studies have shown that between three and seven seconds is the best amount of wait time for student involvement. However, there is a caveat to this. Teachers need to be aware of student expectations when implementing wait time. Students who are in upper-level courses and who are used to quick fire questions and answers might not get the same benefit from wait time than those in other courses. This is where your expertise as a teacher comes into play. Try waiting varying amounts of time before calling on students in your class and see if it does make a difference to either the number of students involved or the quality of the answers you are getting. In other words, play with wait time and see what works best in your class for your students.