In the seventh article in this series, Kay Bentley discusses why wait time is an important issue in the CLIL classroom.

Wait time describes the time teachers take before they expect a response from a learner or group of learners. In CLIL, it is a more important issue than in many language classes. This is because of the additional time learners take, particularly in the first few years of a CLIL programme, to process new subject-specific language concepts taught in a non-native language. Research into wait time in science and maths classes taught in L1, indicated that, ‘a wait time of less than one second prevented students from taking part in classroom discourse’ (Rowe, 1974).

If this is considered too short an interval to enable students to think and respond in their L1, it is obvious that when studying curricular subjects in a non-native language, most learners will need even longer to think and respond. In addition, teachers in the study recognized that they tended to ask simple, closed questions which required recall rather than higher order thinking skills (HOTS). Questions which explore understanding and require deeper thinking will clearly need an even longer wait time.

By increasing wait time,

  • learners give longer answers
  • more learners become involved
  • learners improve or add to what other learners say
  • more alternative explanations are given
  • there is less chance of no response

From my observations in primary and secondary CLIL contexts, I notice that many teachers tend to forget wait time when using IWBs (interactive whiteboards) or smart boards. Often questions are asked or written on slides one after another without stopping to enable learners to process images, accompanying captions and texts. Everyone is eager to see the next web page or PowerPoint slide, but without pausing and asking learners to predict, hypothesize, discuss or evaluate, the experience is one of entertainment rather than one of deeper learning. 

In TKT: CLIL, wait time is tested in Part 2, on the use of classroom language in CLIL contexts across the curriculum. It is a concept which every teacher needs to consider when moving from language or subject teaching into content and language teaching.


Rowe, M. (1974) 'Wait time and rewards as instructional variables'. In Black, P. Assessment for Learning Maidenhead: Open University Press 2003.

For more information about the TKT: CLIL visit the Cambridge ESOL TKT: CLIL website.