Engagement Strategies: The Waterfall Chat

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend an excellent keynote speech from Douglas Fisher, a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University and big wig in literacy pedagogy. He introduced us to a fun strategy for engagement that has now become a staple of my online teaching. Even now, I’m searching for ways to incorporate this into in-person instruction in the fall.

This strategy is called a “Waterfall Chat” and it’s a simple and engaging way to check for understanding in a Zoom session. Essentially, you ask students to write their response to a question or prompt in the chat box but they must not press “Enter” until you give the signal. Have students write for as long as you like, I usually do about 2 minutes, and then count down and tell them “Go!” whenever you’re ready. When they all hit “Enter” at the same time, the responses come flooding into the Zoom chat like a waterfall!

Why Waterfall? 

You’ve no doubt noticed that when you ask students to respond to something in the chat, you get several initial responses and then after a  few moments all the responses start to look the same! Not only is it distracting to type an answer when there are new messages popping up, it’s also easy to start simply copying the answers from the folks who answered before you.

The Waterfall Chat allows students to respond to the prompt quickly and honestly and gives you, as the teacher, a flood of information about what your students understand in a moment. Also the timed nature of it prompts all the students to respond, giving you a great snapshot of everyone’s understanding. I like to scroll up to the top and read several responses aloud, encouraging the rest of the class to follow as I read.

Waterfall Chat In Person? 

Like I said before, I’ve been trying to figure out how I might maintain this strategy once we’re not all working together in Zoom. There are a handful of tools we can use to simulate the chat, such as Nearpod and also Mentimeter to host live chats that check for understanding! Whether you do it in Zoom, or in some other way, the Waterfall Chat is a great way to get a snapshot of what your students know and to get as many voices as possible into the room!