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Tutor Tip

Chat Cascade for Online Classes

January 2023
Remote Teaching
Teaching Techniques

Do you often have the same few learners responding first to all your questions in an online class? Do you have some learners who can type faster than others? Do some learners need more processing time? If you’ve answered “yes” to any or all of these, try a chat cascade in your next online class session. 

A chat cascade (or waterfall) is when a teacher or tutor provides a prompt or question, gives learners 1-5 minutes to think and type, and then says, “Press enter!” when time is up. When learners press enter, all their answers appear in the chat box at the same time, creating a waterfall or cascading effect. 

This technique gives everyone time to think and respond before any answers appear in the chat box. It allows for processing time and time to type so that everyone can participate without rushing to be first. And, it takes the pressure off learners to answer uniquely from other students who normally answer quickly, so they can show what they know, even if it is the same as what a quicker classmate knows. 

To be successful with chat cascades, try the following:

  • Create or copy a slide or two like these that you always use whenever you do a chat cascade. Once learners have done it a few times, they won’t need your instructions, because they’ll know what the image means and what you want them to do.
  • Give the instructions clearly and succinctly and then repeat them a second time, especially if this is the first time learners are doing a cascade.
  • Reveal the question or prompt they’ll respond to only after you have given clear instructions.
  • Learners will invariably not hear, not understand or forget to wait until you say so to press enter to send their chat message. That’s OK–they’ll get it right next time. 
  • Add a timer on the slide, if you wish, so learners know how much time is left to type. This may work best for longer thinking and writing periods (3 minute timer, 4 minute timer) It may take a few tries before you know how much time to provide learners for a given question or prompt. 

Take the pressure of learners and get participation from everyone with a chat cascade in your next online class session!

For questions or comments about this Tutor Tip, contact Tutor Training Coordinator, Meghan Boyle at  

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