Waiting for student responses

Processing information requires time to think. Although several seconds of silent think-time can be uncomfortable for students and professors alike, extending the time between when you ask a question and receive an answer can increase the number of students who volunteer to participate and improve the quality of their responses. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal describes her thought process behind strategically using wait-time at different points in a discussion.


Christina “V” Villarreal, Lecturer on Education

Student Group



Harvard Graduate School of Education


Ethnic Studies and Education

Group Size

23 students

  • Be patient. After you ask a question, count several seconds in your head before calling on someone, even if several hands immediately go up.
  • Make wait-time the norm, and tell students why you do it. Consistency and transparency will reduce pressure for students to be first respondents and will also underscore the value of “think-time.”
  • Simply say less. Resist the temptation to fill dead air with a rephrased version of your question or to answer an unanswered question yourself.
  • Numerous studies have established the benefits of wait-time for students in K-12 classrooms.  Rowe reported than the typical instructor wait-time to student responses was one second, on average.  Rowe found that increasing wait-time to three to five seconds was associated with increases in the length and quality of student responses and decreases in failures to respond (1974).
  • Tobin found a positive link between higher mean wait-times and student science achievement in middle school students (1980)
  • Dollan and Collins recommend using wait-time as one strategy to teach more effectively (2015)