In a recent post about Echo360 ALP, our dear colleague Beverley Miles reminded us of a troubling fact that 80% of questions that instructors pose to students get answered… by the instructors themselves (not by students)!

Shall we pause and reflect about it for just one second? 80%!! Yes, EIGHTY PERCENT!

Sad – given the fact that the topic of how much ‘wait time’ instructors give students has been all over educational literature for many, many decades now. Back in 1974 Mary Budd Rowe showed that a simple increase in the wait time from 1 to 3 seconds brought significant improvements in the quality and quantity of students’ replies (Rowe, 1974, 1986). Not only do students give more answers, but they also give better answers.

Before we start feeling guilty, it’s important to acknowledge that people are designed to have a very low tolerance for silence mid-conversation. For example, guess how long can Anglo-American conversationalists can bear silence? Just one second according to studies done 20-30 years ago (Jefferson, 1989; Scollon & Scollon, 1981), and even shorter (0.6 seconds) according to more recent research (Roberts et al., 2006). So, it seems that at around 0.6 seconds we start feeling an overwhelming urge to say something.

Why? Because a pause longer than 1 second usually indicates ‘ conversational trouble’, and we subconsciously want to avoid ‘trouble’.

What all of this means is that we really do need to make a conscious effort to wait longer – in between the question and the students’ answers AND between students’ answers and our next question or comment, in order for students to give more and better answers. It is these ‘pauses’ that create an opportunity for students to think, process and (hopefully) engage in the class.


Try counting to at least 5 after you’ve asked a question, and remember that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable!

Also note that live streaming students will experience a short lag time, so if you are posing interactive questions in Echo360 ALP, make sure to also leave enough time for the streamers to answer the question.

Jefferson, G. (1989). Preliminary notes on a possible metric which provides for a’standard maximum’silence of approximately one second in conversation. In P. Bull & D. Roger (Eds.), Conversation: An inderdisciplinary approach (pp. 166-196). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Roberts, F., Francis, A. L., & Morgan, M. (2006). The interaction of inter-turn silence with prosodic cues in listener perceptions of “trouble” in conversation. Speech Communication, 48 (9), 1079-1093.

Rowe, M. B. (1974). Pausing phenomena: Influence on the quality of instruction. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 3 (3), 203-224.

Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait time: slowing down may be a way of speeding up! Journal of Teacher Education, 37 (1), 43-50.

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. (1981). Narrative, literacy and face in interethnic communication. Norwood: Ablex

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.


  1. thanks Olga, this is terrific, great reminder and useful for teacher education


  2. Thanks Olga, this is great advice. And it’s especially important when there are second language learners who may take a bit longer to process the language.


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