Elizabeth Young

Primary Teacher

Newarthill Primary

  • Assessment For Learning

What Happens When Wait-Time is Used During Questioning in the Classroom?


Learning takes many forms in a classroom and is assessed in a myriad of different ways, but one feature of all classrooms is effective questioning. There must be a purpose behind the questioning, in order for it to effective as a means of assessment. During my PGDE year, I read a book entitled ‘Towards Dialogic Teaching’ by Robin Alexander (2006). In the book he encourages teachers to move towards true dialogic teaching, where there is not simply an interaction between a teacher and pupil, but interventions need to be made by the teacher into the pupil’s thinking, to scaffold them and direct them towards their next learning goal. The methods that he explained in his book have been influential as I develop my own teaching style, and it was therefore pertinent to focus on this topic for an enquiry, to further understand the place that giving time to answer a question has on pupils’ thinking.

Rowe (1972) initiated the term ‘wait time’ to describe a period of time after a teacher poses a ques- tion, before expecting an answer. She found that while most teachers only allowed a second, fol- lowing a question, before moving on to another student or another question, by increasing this to 3- 5 seconds, the quality and quantity of answers increased. Stahl (1990) developed this concept by naming it ‘think time’ to further define the purpose behind the pause. While he examined many places in a lesson where think time could improve the quality of answers, in this enquiry, the focus is on time following an initial question from the teacher.

Our School Improvement Plan lists numeracy as being an area for focused improvement, and anec- dotally, I have found that in my class, when children are given time to think before being expected to answer, the quality and quantity of answers increases. Peer learning is a valuable part of teaching and learning, and so if the quality of answers improves, everyone in the class benefits.

All teachers want to get the most meaningful responses from their students, and so this enquiry seeks to clarify what amount of wait time brings benefits, and whether there is a time beyond which no further benefits are found.


The aim of this enquiry is to investigate the effect of an increasing amount of think time on stu- dents’ responses, and to establish (within the limits of the particular type of lesson chosen) whether there was a time beyond which no further benefit was gained.

Download Practitioner Enquiry