Classroom Strategies

3-2-1 Waterfall!

We all have our go-to classroom strategies. During in-person learning, I had structures and routines in place for students to Think-Pair-Share: students would think, then turn and talk to their partner, and finally either volunteer or be voluntold (random name picker or popsicle sticks) to share their or their partner’s answer. Sometimes this would be pre-planned and other times it was spur-of-the-moment when I realized students had been sitting and listening to me for too long.

When the world stopped and we moved to online learning, it took me a while to find ways to engage students in sharing their ideas during our class video chats. Many of my students felt too shy (or had louder learning settings) to unmute and share out loud. Even now, a year later, most are not willing or not comfortable to unmute to speak. But, all of them are able to participate in the chat! Cue the waterfall!

I learned about the Waterfall strategy in a mandatory district professional development just before the start of the school year. I have heard others refer to this strategy as “flood the chat” too. Regardless of what you call it, it is easy to teach students (or adults!), simple to setup, and does not take a lot of time.

How it Works

The waterfall setup is simple:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Students answer in the chat, but do not click send
  3. Teacher calls out “3-2-1 Waterfall!”
  4. Students all press send together for a cascade of answers!
Student directions for the Waterfall

After all the answers come in, I review key points or common patterns with students.

When to Use It

I have used the waterfall as a beginning of class question, as a check for understanding, and as an exit ticket. Sometimes it is a silly or simple question, like “what is your favorite animal?” and other times it is more academic-focused, such as “give an example of ways humans have positively or negatively impacted the environment.”

Example SEL Waterfall question

Since my district does not pay for Google Enterprise, we do not have breakout rooms in Meet. This has been one way we have efficiently gotten students participating in class!

Why a Waterfall?

This strategy is quick, informative, and encourages participation. I love that it allows all students to participate. For some questions we ask online, the first few students are willing to respond, then a few others trickle in once they see their peers’ responses. With the waterfall, students are able to feel the anonymity of answering in the large group and may not feel like they stick out, whether they don’t know the answer or are simply hesitant to be the center of attention.

Student Directions

Use these Slides (template) to structure a waterfall for your students! I place a waterfall clipart in the top right corner to remind myself and my students of the question type and procedures.

What are some ways you will use the Waterfall in your online classroom?

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