Think Time by Cassandra Mattoon, Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School, Illinois State University

From a very young age children learn the rules for answering questions and participating in discussions in the classroom. We all know the common rules. If you have something that you want to say or you know the answer to the question you should raise your hand. The teacher then calls on you and you give your response. This is a great practice and a tool used for class management. It works most of the time. If your children are anything like mine though you have the few who raise their hand to answer every time a question is asked whether they really know the answer or not. They may even sit up taller and begin to wave frantically at you. There are those children who never raise their hand to participate. There are those who occasionally offer to participate. There are children who raise their hand and are eager to participate but then when you call on them say, “I don’t know” or may even just look at you. So, the eager hand waving child leans over and whispers the answer to them or gets tired of waiting and just yells out. You may have encountered these same types of experiences in a classroom. Does this practice really get everyone fully involved in discussions?


During a professional development workshop that I attended many years ago we were told to wait about 5-10 seconds before calling on a student during discussions. This seems like a long time when we get used to the rapid ask and answer routine that can happen in classrooms. I was also told that children often remember the first response that is given so teachers need to make sure the first response is the correct response. These things really made me ponder and begin to alter my practices. I encourage you to take some time to reflect on how effective your classroom practices during discussions are as well. In my classroom I now incorporate something I call, Think Time.


I introduce Think Time to the children as an important way to let everyone in the class be a learner. I ask them a question and tell them not to raise their hands, just think about it. I then wait for what may seem like a long time to others before acquiring a response from a child. At the end of the Think Time I will then say, “Now tell me what you are thinking.” When I do this more hands go up. The responses are more thoughtful and detailed. If I watch my children closely I can actually see them thinking as their facial expressions change. Some faces will light up and I know they thought of a response or figured out the answer to the question. I have seen the reluctant child begin to raise their hand more often because they were given time to think about what they wanted to say. The child whose hand often went up so quickly but gave me a wrong answer or simple response has learned to slow down and really think about what is being asked. After some time and practice I now have some children ask for Think Time rather than saying, “I don’t know.” I give them this extra time and then they willingly tell me they are ready and provide a response.


The purpose of discussions and questioning with children should be to monitor progress and evaluate children’s understanding of concepts. When I began incorporating, Think Time and altering the way that I expected children to respond and give me feedback then the discussions became a better formative assessment tool. Using Think Time gets more children involved and confident in sharing their ideas.


Tips for classroom discussions and questioning:


  1. Try to move away from quick responses.
  2. Have children wait until you ask for hands to be raised after asking a question.
  3. As children are thinking tell them what the wrong answer is or state the common misconceptions that children may have on the topic. This will cause them to rethink their responses.
  4. Occasionally call on children without them raising hands at all.
  5. After asking a question have students give you a thumbs up when they have a response. Wait for many thumbs before calling on a child.
  6. After some think time have students whisper responses to a partner.
  7. If a child is reluctant to answer ask them what they need to help them think better. (The question repeated, a clue, a place to look to find the answer, etc.)
  8. Encourage good listening skills when others are speaking.

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