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Rethinking Wait Time: Four Places to Pause During Number Talks (Math Monday)

Posted by admin on Feb 13, 2023 8:00:00 AM

Highlighting Ideas from Digging Deeper: Making Number Talks Matter Even More by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker



Wait time. It sounds simple enough to pause, to give students time to think, to let an idea linger in the air for a moment before moving on. And yet, knowing wait time is powerful, and making it a consistent part of our teaching practice are often two different things!

In Digging Deeper, the follow-up book to the best-selling Making Number Talks Matter, authors Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker “look at how wait time can be used effectively in Number Talks to ensure more equitable participation, bring more voices into the conversation, and help students learn to engage with each other’s ideas” (33). In this excerpt from their book, Humphreys and Parker suggest four intentional moments in Number Talks in which pausing for wait time can be especially productive.

Four wait times to encourage student engagement and interaction during number talks

1. Wait Time After the Teacher Poses the Problem

Have students solve the problem mentally and put up their thumbs when they have had enough time to think; then WAIT.

Why: The purpose of intentional waiting is to shift the emphasis from being quick to being thoughtful. This is the first of four different places to wait during a Number Talk.

Say (something like):

  • “Please don’t raise your hands when you’ve solved the problem. It’s not a race! I’m not interested in how fast you can solve it. I’m interested in hearing how you solve it. And besides, raised hands can interfere with people’s thinking.”
  • “Putting your thumb up doesn’t mean you have to talk. It just means that you’ve had enough time to think about the problem. We won’t call on you unless you volunteer.”
  • “If you have extra time, see if you can find other ways to solve the problem and let me know by…” (Model putting up additional fingers.) 

2. Wait Time After  the Teacher Asks Who is Willing to Share a Strategy and Before Calling on Anyone

After you’ve recorded students’ answers on the board, ask students to put their thumb up again when they are willing to explain how they figured out the problem; then WAIT.

Why: Some students love to volunteer; others are more reticent. It can take time for students to decide if they are ready to share and what they might say. Waiting here helps to avoid the problem of hearing from the same few students.  

Say (something like): “You may notice that sometimes I see your thumb and even make eye contact with you but don’t call on you. This might feel like I’m not interested in what you have to say, but I am. I’m waiting on purpose to give everyone a chance to think about whether they want to share and what they might say when they do.”

3. Wait Time After  a Student Responds and Before the Teacher Responds

When volunteers begin to share their strategies, they first identify which answer they are defending. Record the students; thinking. Then before calling on another student, WAIT.

Why: It’s too easy to go from one strategy to the next without giving students time to think about a strategy that has just been shared. Without this wait time, we are often the only ones to comment or ask questions. These five to ten seconds of waiting can open up space for students to consider others’ ideas. This also gives you time to think about what a student has done.

Say (something like): “You’ll notice that sometimes I wait a while after someone has shared a strategy. I’m doing this on purpose to give you a chance to think about what that person has said.”  

4. Wait Time at the End of a Number Talk

Ask students to look at the different strategies shared and see if there is anything they notice or anything they wonder about and indicate with their thumb if they do. Then WAIT until several thumbs are up. And then wait some more.

Why: This is the (very important) time for students to look across strategies and notice relationships. But try hard not to do the thinking for them (no matter how tempting it might be, or how excited you are about something you’ve noticed).

Say (something like):  “We have several strategies up here. Take a look and see if there are things you notice or are wondering about.” And wait.


If you’re looking to dig deeper (pun intended!) into wait time, you can read more in Chapter 3 of Digging Deeper and check out the book on our website. Digging Deeper is the perfect book for teachers in grades 3-10 looking to deepen their Number Talk practice and make space for students’ mathematical ideas and talk.

Until next time, may your Monday be mathematically marvelous!


Digging Deeper book cover


Topics: Math, #StenhouseMath