Currently, a lot of classes are happening online and a lot of them are happening via a video conference system, such as Zoom. 

I think that one of the best tools that Zoom has for active learning is Breakout Rooms. Every student will become an active participant, not an observer in a small breakout room with 1 or 2 classmates. In this blog article, I would like to share my top five tips to utilize Breakout Rooms for Active learning. 

  1. Pre-assign Breakout Rooms
  2. Make the task clear
  3. Use Shared Google Drive
  4. Use TAs (Co-hosts)
  5. Take advantage of all tools available in Breakout Rooms

  1. Pre-assign Breakout Rooms

In my previous blog article “5 ways for more motivated students,” I wrote that Partnership— having supportive classmates— is one of the most important factors for student motivation.

It is nice that you can assign students into breakout rooms randomly in Zoom. However, I recommend that you pre-assign breakout rooms so that students can meet with the same group of students throughout the semester. It takes time for people to build connections and feel comfortable with each other. Especially when we cannot meet face-to-face, it is important to meet with the same group of the classroomates regularly. 

During a Zoom meeting, you can choose to use either pre-assigned breakout rooms or randomly assigned breakout rooms depending on the purpose of the breakout sessions.

Here are the steps to pre-assign breakout rooms. 

  1. Schedule recurring Zoom meetings in your Learning Management System first. Zoom is integrated into many systems, such as Moodle and Canvas
  2. Go to your institution’s Zoom website to edit the meetings. Find the meeting you just scheduled and choose to Edit All Occurrences. As of this writing, you cannot pre-assign breakout rooms in LMS. 
    1. Check Breakout Room pre-assign under Meeting Options
    2. Choose Import from CSV. Download the template and update the CSV with your students’ email addresses, which you can get from your LMS, and upload the updated CSV.
  3. Instruct your students to sign in to their Zoom accounts for pre-assignments to be applied.
  4. During a meeting, you can choose to use either pre-assigned breakout rooms or randomly assigned breakout rooms by clicking the Recreate button in the pop-up window for the Breakout Rooms.

2. Make the task clear

Clearly communicate the task before you open up the breakout rooms. If you want each group to document or summarize their conversations, you need to communicate that too. I would limit the number of the tasks for each breakout session. A clearly communicated task helps students to focus and guide their attention. It is a good idea to set a time for each breakout session. Under Options in the pop-up window for Breakout Rooms, you can set Breakout rooms to close automatically after a certain amount of time. 


3. Use Shared Google Drive 

I would set up a shared Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides or Forms) before each breakout session. In a face-to-face classroom, you can walk around the classroom and check what each group is discussing, but when students are in multiple breakout rooms, even though you can join each room one by one, the process takes time. With shared Google Doc, Sheets, Slide, or Forms, you can follow their progress in real time. Since the document is shared with everyone, you can also eliminate the time that takes for each group to report out after each breakout session. 

Here are some tips for each Google format

  • Google Docs
    • Insert a Page Break of each group. (Insert > Break > Page Break)
  • Google Sheets
    • Assign a row for each group and set each row so that the text wraps (Format > Text wrapping > wrap)
    • Another option is to create a separate Sheet for each group. You can give a different color for each sheet.
  • Google Slides
    • Assign a slide for each group
  • Google Forms
    • Create one form for the whole class. 
    • You can share the spreadsheet once they submit their form.
    • Unlike the other formats, you cannot see what they are typing until they submit their form. 

4. Get help from TAs

It is a good idea to have some TAs (co-hosts) who can help your students in each breakout room. You can make any of your students co-hosts during the meeting from the Manage Participant panel. 

You can also make your TAs alternative hosts when you are setting up your meetings. They become co-hosts once you start the meeting. 

The co-host can leave and join any breakout room only after they join a breakout room assigned to them by the host.

Breakout Rooms won’t be recorded automatically even though you are recording the meeting. If you want to record each breakout room, co-hosts can record their breakout rooms locally, but not to the cloud. You can also allow your students to record their breakout rooms locally.


5. Take advantage of all tools available in Breakout Rooms

Just like in the main room, students can use the Chat and Screen Share tools in each breakout room. They can use the Whiteboard under Screen Share for brainstorming activities or do a presentation by sharing any presentation program, such as Google Slides or PowerPoint. 

Make sure that students know how to switch to Side-by-side Mode during the screen share.  According to Zoom, “This enables them to see the shared screen alongside either the Speaker View or Gallery View, depending on which view they choose. They can also adjust the location of the separator between the shared screen and video to change the relative size of each side.” You can also set your Zoom Desktop client to automatically enter side-by-side mode when a participants starts sharing their screen.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels