Kay O’Neill

Primary Teacher

Tannochside Primary

  • Assessment For Learning

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


Posing questions for children within the arena of the classroom is a crucial aspect of the teaching and learning process. Rowe (1986) stated that the majority of educators allow around one second for a response before they interrupt the listener’s thought process by either rephrasing or redirecting their question. Some educators have even been known to interrupt at this short notice and provide the answer to their own question. Cotton (2001) contributes to the debate by suggesting that in order for children to learn, they need to be exposed to a question rich environment.

Rowe (1974) suggests that introducing a ‘wait time’ of 3 and 5 seconds encourages improvement in the areas of additional and extended responses, enriched confidence, more speculative answers and also increased participation from less able learners. Researchers Ingram and Elliot (2015), have suggested that the benefits of introducing ‘wait time’ include that it encourages organisation within learning environments. Enabling learners, by giving them the time to deliberate reduces the instances where learners don’t respond simply because they have had insufficient time to formulate an answer. Additionally, by introducing wait time, there is the notion that a sense of community can be fostered, as each individual is given the opportunity to contribute.

On the other hand, some literature highlights certain concerns that should be considered when implementing wait time strategies. Wiliam (2011) suggests that information recollection questions are not appropriate for this strategy as giving learners time to deliberate when they do not know the answer will not help and may cause the learner to become distressed.

The reason I chose this topic to research is because it is an area that I had heard about while at university. I was intrigued by the claims from researchers such as Rowe (1974) about the benefits of ‘wait time’ and I wanted to investigate their claims further for myself. Additionally, our school improvement plan focuses clearly on equity for all children and as ‘wait time’ is a key strategy for including children whose voices are often lost behind more able learners I felt compelled to focus on this area for my research.


This classroom enquiry was inspired by the desire to increase teacher awareness of ‘wait time’ and the potential benefits it could have for the children. Furthermore, aiming to stimulate participation amongst low level contributors who prefer to blend into the background for a variety of individual reasons.

The aims of this enquiry were two-fold. Initially to establish which of the following: 0, 3, 5 or 10 seconds ‘wait time’ resulted in the optimum number of responses from learners. And secondly to establish whether the quality of the responses improved in relation to the length of wait time.

Download Practitioner Enquiry