The Good Thing About Awkward Silence in Class

A Q&A session is one of the most practical ways to engage kids in class. But it isn’t necessarily the most effective. It’s not because the questions are hard or the students are inattentive. The problem is that some teachers feel uneasy about awkward pauses, fighting the urge to have answers right away.


It’s Okay to Wait


Wait time is a classic teaching strategy that does a lot of good in classroom discussions. For example, it can improve the length or substance of your students’ answers. It can also reduce unmeaningful responses like “I don’t know.” Finally, it boosts class participation; teachers don’t have to call the same kids during every discussion. Still, some teachers disregard the value of wait time because of the simplicity of the routine. Today, technology and the need for instant gratification significantly affect the educational system. With that in mind, it’s essential to revive the practice of wait time in classrooms and promote the habit of active thinking.

You should remember that the goal of asking questions isn’t just to measure your students’ comprehension but also to facilitate different types of thinking, such as reflection and critical analysis. You should encourage your students to get into the habit of processing information as meticulously as they can. You want them to develop patience in constructing their thoughts and not always depend on technology. Beyond recitation or oral discussions, wait time is applicable to your writing sessions. For example, before distributing first-grade writing worksheets, you can dedicate time for active thinking. This helps in overcoming writer’s block, which can be intimidating to young pupils.

Wait Time in Action

Students writing while inside the classroom

Wait time seems like a straightforward strategy. However, you need to have a reasonable time frame. Three to five seconds are enough to facilitate initial thinking among pupils. A limit of more than 20 seconds will only create a threatening vibe in class. Students who are already raising their hands might feel like you’re not valuing their contributions. Worse, they might think that their voices or opinions don’t matter.

Moreover, you have to observe the principle of Wait Time II. When a student answers your question, pause before reacting to what they said. This gives them enough time to express their insights eloquently. On your end, you’ll be able to effectively process what was said and provide more meaningful feedback.

Finally, you should take note of your types of questions. Go for open-ended  ones. Direct them to the entire class instead of one person. When a student fails to answer, even with ample wait time, ask the magic question: “Do you want me to get back to you?” This encourages active thinking and tells the student that you value their insights in class.

In the end, wait time is a valuable teaching strategy that you should bring back to your class. Make time for wait time, and don’t be afraid of brief awkward silences. After all, wait time can make a big difference in your students’ learning process.

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