The excerpt below is from the book “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom,” by Patricia A. Jennings. This section is from the chapter entitled “Orchestrating Classroom Dynamics.”

Mindful Wait Time

One way to promote engagement and learning is to consciously create pauses throughout the day. We can create a sense of spaciousness in our classroom by slowing down the pace of our speech and punctuating our lessons with silence. Introduced well, this practice can improve classroom discourse.

The speed at which we can process information varies from person to person (Droit-Volet, Meck, & Penney, 2007). Some people process auditory information very quickly, while others tend to have more visual or sensorimotor strengths. In any case, when we have more time to process information, the quality of our thinking and learning improves. Younger children require more time to process than do older children, and adults often forget this as they zoom through content as if they were speaking to other adults. No matter what their ages, when we give our students just a little more time to process information, they learn better.

When I introduce this idea to teachers, I often hear concerns that they will be wasting valuable time doing nothing. It’s important to recognize that during the pauses, you and your students are not “doing nothing.” Your students may be considering several alternatives; they may be mulling a picture over in their mind; they may be making associations, comparisons, and contrasts. They may be trying to drudge up the right word from their vocabulary. When we give them this time, their processing becomes richer, deeper, and more abstract. When you rush through a lesson, you may deliver content more quickly and efficiently, but your students may not absorb the content very well, if at all.

The added bonus of these pause punctuations is that they give us as teachers a few moments to practice mindfulness. When this becomes an intentional part of our lessons, we can take the time to notice our body in space, the whole classroom, each student, and the small details that surrounds us, in the present moment. We give ourselves a short break—a micro-vacation from the constant activity of a busy classroom.

We can use the time to tune in to ourselves and our students. We can ask ourselves, “How am I feeling right now? How are the students feeling? What’s happening right now? What do my students need? How can I explain this better?” By taking mindful pauses, we are modeling mindful behavior for our students and letting us all have some time to process the information we are exploring together.

Typically we pause after we ask a question and before we call on someone to answer. Most of the time, this pause is only about one second long. Students who process information quickly are at an advantage under these conditions. They tend to be the ones who always raise their hands immediately. While the speedy students are answering the question, the slower students are still trying to process the question, so they may not hear and comprehend the answer or be able to assimilate it into their existing knowledge. If the quick pace of the session continues, some students may feel left behind.

However, educational researchers have discovered that if the pause between the teacher’s question and the student’s answer lasts between three and five seconds, significant changes occur in student behavior (Rowe, 1987). Students are more likely to respond appropriately to the questions, answer the questions correctly, and offer longer and more complex answers. There are fewer “I don’t know” or non-answer responses. Over time, many more students show higher levels of engagement (Honea, 1982; Swift & Gooding, 1983) and achievement test scores and school retention levels increase (Tobin & Capie, 1982).

Wait time has a positive effect on teachers as well. With conscious use of wait time, teachers’ questioning strategies become more varied and flexible, and they ask follow-up questions that require more complex information processing and higher-order thinking (Casteel & Stahl, 1973; Rowe, 1972; Stahl, 1990; Tobin, 1987).

Robert Stahl (1990) identified eight categories of wait time. When we formally introduce wait time, these periods of silence are trans- formed from periods of awkwardness into valuable moments of silence. The first category is the type of wait time we’ve already discussed: the time between a teacher’s question and the student’s answer. The other seven are as follows:

Within-student’s-response pause time. This is a three-second or longer pause that occurs when a student pauses or hesitates during the process of delivering a response to a teacher’s question. Teachers tend to interrupt students when they are thinking through their answers and take time to pause. However, when given the time, students often follow these periods of silence by successfully completing their responses.

Post-student’s-response wait time. This is a pause after a student has finished a response and other students are considering adding comments or reactions. This gives the other students time to think about what was said and to decide if they have anything to add.

Student pause time. This is a pause after a student has initiated a question, statement, or comment but doesn’t complete the thought. It may seem strange to formalize this type of pause, but this situation arises more often than we might realize because the tendency is to ignore the question rather than allow for a pause. This happens to me a lot. I have a thought, idea, or question. I’m getting ready to tell someone, and my mind goes blank. I can’t remember what I was going to say. When this happens to one of our students, we can give ourselves and the student a little time to recover, rather than just letting it drop.

Teacher pause time. This is a pause that the teacher intentionally initiates to consider what is happening, appraise the situation, and consider the best course of action. A particularly beneficial time for a teacher to pause is when a student has asked a question and the answer requires a complex answer. Taking time to consider how to frame the answer can improve student learning.

Within-teacher-presentation pause time. This is a pause that the teacher intentionally initiates during lecture presentations or other extended periods of content output. The teacher intentionally stops the flow of information to give students three to five seconds of silence to absorb the information and to consolidate their thinking. This type of pause requires no response from the students; it’s simply processing time. Using silence this way, teachers can chunk their content into bite-sized pieces to help students absorb and process the information better.

Student task completion work time. This is pause time intended to allow students to complete an academic task that demands undivided attention. The length of the pause should be related to the time it takes to complete a task. The challenge involved in this type of pause is how to handle the variation in completion time among students. If students learn the value of pausing and some of them finish early, they can use the time to extend their thinking about the subject in some way.

Impact pause time. This is the use of pause time to create impact or drama. When we pause, we can create a mood of anticipation. A dramatic pause can generate feelings of suspense and expectation.

Wait time can be challenging. Many of us get so excited about sharing our own thoughts and ideas that we tend to interrupt students, leaving no space in the discussion for students to process information and respond thoughtfully. In the skill-building practices at the end of this chapter, you will learn more about how to apply wait time in your classroom.

Patricia A. Jennings is an associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

  • Kenzie

    I agree with taking time to pause and soak in the information. I am a student myself and often a teacher has a question and I don’t even have time to think of an answer before the smartest people in the room shoot their hands up. Also sometimes our teachers will just randomly call on people with a question that they put the student in a position to answer quickly which in turn puts pressure on the student. What some of the teachers at my school are doing is brain breaks and meditation. With brain breaks, we take time out of the lesson to do a challenging activity that with help wake up our brain after we have been sitting for a long time. With meditation at the beginning of class, it allows us to zone in on what we need to accomplish and forget all about soccer practice and drama and just focus on the material that we are learning. In this day and age, teachers are coming up with better ways to include students and help them succeed. I would like to see more of your ideas in our schools and see how great it could make our school and help with letting everyone have a chance to participate.

  • Brian Silberberg

    In my experience, mindfulness can do a great deal to improve the attention and retention abilities of students. At Books That Grow we’re familiar with trying to use unique sources to improve students’ quality of education; our app provides a library of reading materials, all of which can be read across multiple reading levels, so that a classroom can accommodate students of all skill levels simultaneously. See more at

  • T. N.

    When I was an instructor, we were taught to engage with students through the ask-pause-call method. The pause was vital to allow all students an opportunity to process the question and formulate their response. The instructor must delicately balance the classroom with the very eager student wanting to immediately spout out responses with those that need the extra seconds and are hesitant to raise their hand. We eventually started to randomly call on students when a majority of the class has their hands raised. This encouraged more participation and fewer students felt like they were being “left behind”.

  • Amy West

    This article poses a lot of good points, like allowing
    students 3-5 seconds to collect their thoughts, answer questions, and complete
    work, however, some pauses in the classroom could be too much. When I read this
    post, it reminded me of Carnine’s article on presentation rates (1976). Carnine’s
    study argues that a faster presentation rate “might decrease the occurrence of
    students’ Off-Task behavior and increase the occurrence of Answering Correctly
    and Participation” (2009). The faster presentation rate was a result from
    decreasing the delay after children’s responses. The teachers were instructed
    for the slow rate to proceed to the next task after a child’s response after 5
    seconds. The fast rate instructed the teacher to proceed immediately after
    response. The information from Carnine’s article supports the points in this
    post except “post-student’s-response wait time,” and possibly “within-teacher-presentation
    pause time” and “impact pause time.” These pauses may delay the lesson so much
    that student’s lose attention or that their minds start to wander rather than
    what this post argues: that student’s need time to process and make
    connections. Both Carnine and Jennings make good points, but all in all, it is
    important to consider the positive and negative effects of pausing while

  • Lisa Rose

    Engagement of students is a must, that ensures more participation.The gap between smart and dumb people must be reduced.

    • I don’t really want to slow down the smart kids to allow the “dumb” to catch up, but I do want to do anything I can to eliminate the dumb category. The smart kids are smart because they learn fast, if we are providing great opportunities for them the learn the gap will just get larger, but we should ensure the low students in our class will gain a lot of ground to get them to grade level expectations. I wrote about this at

      • teacher

        As a teacher I don’t use words like “smart” or “dumb” since students all are smart in their own ways, it is important to think of the language we use when we describe students. Thus, it is important to consider which strengths each student has and how you then teach to their strengths and also recognize their weaknesses and also address those. For instance one student’s strength could be another’s weakness this goes from knowing math to art and having strength in sports while a weakness in comprehending texts. In looking and naming “strength” and “weakness” rather than “dumb” and “smart” we then begin to see that everyone is unique and as teachers we view all students as human beings that have something to offer and to build on strengths and address weaknesses.

      • Lorraine Wilburn

        Slower to process and respond has nothing to do with smart or dumb! It is about how some brains learn and process information. Some of the slower to process students, when given time, can develop a deeper and richer understanding than the knee jerk answers of the “smart” kids.

  • As a teacher this is so easy to forget. We have so much that needs to get done in a day we forget tho take the time to think. This article was a great reminder to me of the importance of taking this time.

  • This is a great topic to talk about. Love your perspective Patricia.
    There are so many benefits to building in pauses. I find that, as well allowing the students a time to process what they are learning, they also provide me space for me to see or notice what I need to do next. Sometimes what I do next is not planned but gets formed in these seconds. I can be more responsive to the needs of the students there and then rather than to some abstract notion of what the students need. The allow me to be more relaxed, also a vital ingredient for a “healthy” class.
    The list goes on…
    I wrote a piece on the importance of noticing some time back. I think it would add to the dialogue here –

  • Mayra Pelayo

    I definitely agree that some people process information faster/slower than other people. However, I don’t think it has to do with being “dumb or smart” or with who gives the first answer, rather, think about the answer, ways to solve it, and coming to a conclusion. Also, I agree with Patricia that “Some people process auditory information very quickly, while others tend to have more visual or sensorimotor strengths.” This is my situation. It does not matter how many times I hear it, but until I see an example, then I will understand what the information is about, and actually process it better in my brain. As a student and future teacher, this article definitely will help me to pause, absorb, and process the information better.

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