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Is your class less interactive than you would like? Having a hard time getting students to participate? Feeling like you are the only one in the room willing to talk? There may be a relatively simple solution… increase your wait-time when prompting students to interact.

Wait-time is the amount of time that is allowed to pass, in absolute silence, between your question and either a student response or your next utterance. Research on wait-time shows that it is typically very short, somewhere between 0.9 and 1.5 seconds on average. After that brief silence the professor most often restates or answers their question. The good news is that the research also shows that increasing wait-time to 3 seconds or more results in noticeable differences is student participation. These differences include increased correctness and length of responses and an increase in the number of students that participate voluntarily.

When thinking about wait-time remember to consider the complexity of the question you are asking. For moderately difficult questions the 3-4 second wait-time will increase participation but for more difficult questions you will want to allow 7-10 seconds.

To create a natural flow of discussion in a seminar style course allow for secondary wait-time as well. This is the silence after student response that is most often cut short by teacher feedback. If you want your students to talk to each other, allow time for that to occur.

So, if you feel like you aren’t getting the participation that you want try increasing your wait-time, enjoy the silence and then hear what your students have to say. If you are like me you may need to do a mental count-down, ten one-thousand, nine one-thousand… to ensure that you are really allowing the desired amount of time.


  • Alan, D and Tanner, K. (2002). Approaches in Cell Biology Teaching. Cell Biol Educ 1(1): 3-5. Available from http://www.lifescied.org/cgi/content/full/1/1/3
  • Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up. Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 37, No. 1, 43-50.
  • Stahl, Robert J. (1995). Using “Think-Time” and “Wait-Time” Skillfully in the Classroom. ERIC Digest (ED370885). Available from http://www.ericdigests.org/1995-1/think.htm
  • Tobin, K. (1987). The role of wait time in higher cognitive level learning. Review of Educational Research, 57(1), 69. Available to Notre Dame Community at http://link.library.nd.edu/umzkx

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