How much time do you give to your students to think about your question before asking for an answer?

A bevy of recent research suggests that we’ve entered the age of impatience. We want it all and we want it now – instant success, instant wealth and instant coffee. According to the UMass-Amherst study that analysed the viewing habits of 6.7 million video viewers, they are likely to abandon a video if there is a start-up delay.

How long are viewers willing to be patient?

Two seconds.

How long are you willing to be patient before your students come up with an answer?


Myths and Legends of the Classroom

Myth 22

Students don’t know the answer to a question if they don’t respond quickly.


Learners process information at a different speed – some do it faster, some do it more slowly. After you’ve asked a question or set a task, there’ll always be learners who have already come up with an answer and those who have only started to process the question. Both types of learners need some wait and think time, though. The former would definitely benefit if they were given more time to think and refine their ideas while the latter would need this time to formulate their responses.

My today’s post describes a few strategies/techniques to give learners (more) time to relate and process the question or task before they produce an answer, help them overcome stress and come up with better ideas and develop a salient think-before-you-leap skill for life.

I. Allow time for learners to individually process their thinking


After you ask a question, get students to think individually about a particular question. (For teachers, if you feel your job is to fill all pauses possible during the class time, try to occupy your mind with something, e.g. say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ 3 times or count sheep). Then, get students to pair up and discuss their ideas.

As a variation of this technique, after students have compared their ideas, get them to write down their responses.

II. Allow time for all students to get ready

Have you ever run to catch the bus? I’d done it a few times before I finally learnt that a) it’s against all common sense (read there’s 1 in a million chance I can manage it, and this chance depends heavily on whether I had lunch or not); and b) it’s not the last bus on earth. Similarly, when someone else has answered before you are ready, you might choose to stop and wait for another bus – it’s not the last question on earth, is it?

Thumbs up!

After you ask a question, have students give you a thumbs-up when they are ready to answer. Wait until everyone gives you a thumbs-up.

As an alternative, try the traffic lights technique. See 5 WAYS TO BRING COLOUR INTO LEARNING.

After they’ve given you a thumbs-up/green light, use index cards with your students’ names. Shuffle the cards and pick randomly a card with the name of the student who is expected to answer.

III. Use a more relaxed format

Some students just ‘freeze’ when the spotlight is on them. This might cause them to fail to give a well-formulated any answer when they actually can answer the question but in a more relaxed format.

All at once

On the count of 3, get students to all say their answer to the question at the same time.

Buddy buzz

Have students share their answers with their partner (a ‘buddy’). Call on a student (‘buddy’) to tell you what their buddy buzzed.

Close Your Eyes

Assign numbers/letters to students, e.g. from 1 to 4. Ask students to close their eyes. Then name a particular number/letter and ask the students with this number/letter to open their eyes and read the question (projected on the board), then they should close their eyes again. Repeat the procedure for Students B, C, etc. After they’ve all got their questions, ask them to share answers in teams, or ask one student to say their answer to the question to the person next to/behind them.  That student then turns and says the answer to their chosen question to the next person.  Continue till all the students have said their answer to another student in the class.

Alternatively, have them write down their answer to their question on a post-it note and then post their notes under a particular question on the board. Then ask students to put their ‘like’ under the answers they agree with. If you have a large class, get them to stick their answers on a miniboard (a sheet of paper) and pass it around the class.

Give one – get one

Ask a question and have students write 3 ideas/answers. Then have them talk to at least 2 more students to get 2 additional answers and to give 2 of theirs ‘away’.

III. Allow time to think about ideas

‘Brain Dump’

After you ask a question, get students to just write down all of the ideas floating in their mind and then share their ideas and add other ideas as they come to their mind.

Have students organise their ideas by using graphic organisers, e.g. the 4-square organiser (check GOING GRAPHIC: 4 SQUARES FOR BETTER SPEAKING).

IV. Scaffold

Frame it

Use a frame which students have to complete.

For example:

I’m not sure that  ________________ because  ________________.

I find XX ________________ because of 3 factors. First, ________________. One important reason why ________________ is ________________. Second, ________________, etc.

Word Splash

Give to students a ‘splash’ of key words and have them write a few meaningful sentences using these words.

V. Let them rehearse

Smart Practice

Have students use their smartphones and record their answers before you choose a student to answer, e.g. ask all the students in the class to talk for a minute (to and for themselves). Then ask them to listen to their recordings and see whether they’re satisfied with their answers.

* * *

Happy teaching!


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I agree that a lack of response doesn’t mean a lack of language knowledge. In some class I can wait up to 2-3 minutes what the students formulate what their responses will be. I found that giving the class more time to ‘think’ meant that the students were more willing to share ideas, and there was a lot of useful language that emerge within the lesson.

  2. Some useful ideas here, Svetlana. I often tell trainees who don’t give wait time that students, especially low-level ones, have to:
    1. Hear the question
    2a. Process the words they hear
    2b. Translate them
    3a. Decide what they want to say
    3b. Translate it into English
    4. Work out the muscle movements to say the right thing
    5. Say it

    It’s no wonder it takes them time to respond! 🙂

  3. […] I’ve recently added a really effective strategy to enhance students’ answers to my toolkit. I came across this approach in the context of machine learning and prompt engineering, yet I find it extremely valuable for my students. I thought it would be worthwhile to share it on the blog [#bloggingisnotdead…well, not yet], along with other strategies to facilitate better student responses.  […]

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