Blog: Asynchronous Slow Reveal Graphs (Desmos)

The very first time I facilitated a slow reveal graph with students, I did so without a slidedeck and projector. Instead, I used printed out images of the graph, stuffed into an old sheet protector. I was able to annotate using a dry erase marker. Each time I wanted to do a reveal, I removed the paper, revealing the next version of the graph below. For all its clumsiness, the students and I were hooked.

The next time I did a slow reveal graph, I used Desmos Activity Builder. I was able to put each of the slow reveal graph images onto its own screen, and pace the activity so that all students were looking at the same image. We weren’t able to annotate, but we were able to incorporate lots of important language elements of the slow reveal.

Cut to 2020: who knew we would be teaching from home?

Slow Reveal Graphs is a social thinking routine. It’s discourse-heavy, and much of the magic comes from communal sensemaking. Slide decks still work great for synchronous experiences. However, because I have two small and delightfully needy children at home, I do most of my teaching asynchronously.

So can slow reveal graphs be done asynchronously? 

Key Language Elements of the Slow Reveal Graph Routine

There are 6 language demands in the math classroom: reading, writing, speaking, listening, representation, and discourse. (from Aguirre and Bunch, 2012) Ideally, students should engage with all 6 of these language components during the Slow Reveal Graphs routine.

  • All students able to access the visuals of the graph
    • Whether it’s on personal devices, a projector, or in a sheet protector… students need to be able to look, and look closely
  • Discourse and oral language
    • Students make sense of the graph by
      • Talking out their thoughts
      • Revising their thinking
      • Hearing what other people think
      • Building off what other people think
  • Annotation
    • Thinking must be made visible, through writing and representing

Some of these elements are easier to capture in the asynchronous environment than others.

I think Desmos is about as good a platform for this as it gets. With Desmos Activity Builder, we are able to create different screens showing the images. Students can both write down their thinking to share and also sketch directly onto the image of the graph. There is a feature to allow students to read what 3 of their classmates said. I’ve experimented with other platforms, but anything that did well with the social components didn’t allow for the linear nature of the slow reveal, and vice versa. (Plus I love Desmos.)

There’s a great teacher dashboard with tons of features that work for both synchronous and asynchronous experiences. Here’s what some 3rd graders at my school did with the Dinosaur Fossil pictograph.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 11.11.04 AMScreen Shot 2020-06-03 at 11.11.32 AM

There are now a few graphs (1, 2, 3, 4) with links to Desmos incarnations.

Slide decks still work great for synchronous online experiences, but for everything else… there’s Desmos. 🙂 I will start a tag with graphs that have Desmos versions for easy browsing.


Aguirre, Julia M., and George C. Bunch, “What’s Language Got to Do with It? Identifying Language Demands in Mathematics Instruction for English Language Learners.” In Beyond Good Teaching: Advancing Mathematics Education for ELLs, edited by Sylvia Celedón-Pattichis and Nora G. Ramirez. Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2012.

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