In a remote or hybrid environment, asking students to turn to a neighbor to discuss a concept or answer a question requires a few extra steps. However, using Zoom breakout rooms, you can still facilitate partner and group work.

Zoom breakout rooms

Breakout rooms divide Zoom participants into groups, splitting them into smaller “rooms” within the larger meeting where they can interact with each other. Students have reported feeling more motivated when asked to directly participate in synchronous remote classes, and many students are more comfortable engaging online in a smaller group than in front of the whole group. Read more about Zoom breakout rooms, and watch a video demonstrating what it looks like to set up breakout rooms, on Zoom’s breakout room support page

Learn how to set up breakout rooms in advance of your meeting

Note: only the meeting host (not co-hosts) can begin breakout rooms. However, both hosts and co-hosts can jump between breakout rooms while they are open. Students in breakout rooms cannot move between rooms unless you set up rooms to allow participants to pick their own room. 

Effective use of breakout rooms

Keep students on track

  • Give students a clear task before sending them to breakout rooms, since they won’t be able to see whatever you previously shared in the main session. You can drop instructions in the chat, which they will be able to access from their breakout room. 
  • Consider "chunking" your activities and moving to breakout rooms multiple times in a class session if you have several tasks for them to complete.
  • Try sharing a Google document with the class that holds all the questions you want them to answer, and designate a space under each question for each group’s answer. You can monitor the Google document in real time as students work.
  • Assign roles in groups, so students have direction in their smaller groups. Direct students to designate a recorder who takes notes on the Google document, and a reporter to keep the pace of class moving if you want groups to share out in the larger Zoom session once breakout rooms end.
  • You can also designate one student to share their screen with a document or a whiteboard in a breakout room, and students can annotate together.

Watch a video about using Google Docs with Zoom breakout rooms

Communicate with all students at once

You can write a message to all students at the same time by broadcasting a message to all breakout rooms. You can share information via broadcast messages, or tell students how much time is remaining in breakout rooms. Messages will pop up on participants’ screens and stay for a few seconds after you send a broadcast message. 

Visit breakout rooms

The meeting host and co-host can join various breakout rooms while they’re open to listen in on student conversations or answer questions. Your presence is more obvious than walking around the classroom in person, but still can allow you to gauge where your students are in material or understanding. 

Students can also ask for help from their breakout room, which will alert you with a pop-up box on your screen. You can then click a button to join the requesting breakout room immediately, or decline and visit that room later. 

Further Reading & Resources:

 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching, from the Chronicle of Higher Education

 Zoom overview & links to tutorials, from CU Boulder OIT 

 Zoom Help Center