Tips for Creating Successful Breakout Rooms
Assign roles: Do not expect students to sort out who does what in the breakout room. Assign one person to be a group leader who is charged with keeping everyone on task; assign another as the note taker; assign another to report on what the group did when the entire class reconvenes. Another option is to tell the students what roles are needed, then pick a random process for assigning roles, such as birthdate, distance from home/campus, or oldest car. This approach promotes discussion early on between students.
Create connection: Breakout rooms work better when students feel comfortable with one another. Provide students with an unrelated question to discuss in their group prior to starting their assigned task. This allows students to create connections with their groupmates.
Mix up group membership… or don’t: Some instructors like to routinely change breakout group membership while others prefer to students in the same group in allow students to get to know each other. Either approach works but if students are kept in the same groups, switch the roles played by each student so everyone has a chance to participate in each position.
Find the right group size: Many instructors prefer smaller groups consisting of approximately 5 students. This allows all students the opportunity to participate.
Put everything in writing: To avoid having students enter the breakout room unaware of what to do, share instructions for the assignment in writing. This can be done in advance of the class session and should be somewhere the students can refer to during class. This can be done through email, on a Google Doc, or through a link the videoconference chat box. Please note that students will not be able to see the chat box from the main meeting room once they are in the breakout rooms so the information should link out to a location they can still reach.
Consider giving each group a different assignment: While some instructors prefer all groups to work on the same task, others prefer to give each group different tasks (or have a few groups work on each task). Utilizing different tasks, creates a more engaging post-group report out to the larger class. Utilizing multiple tasks for which all groups need to hear the information from other groups also provides students with a reason for individual students to return to the larger group discussion, rather than signing off.
Use shared docs: Having students work on a Google Doc, wiki, Padlet, or something similar in order to document their work, promote participation, compare their work with that of other groups, and makes their thoughts and process clearer for the instructor in order to provide feedback. The use of these shared documents also permits the instructor to observe what the students are doing without interrupting conversation in the breakout room. Some instructors prefer to have each group work on their own document which is shared with the larger group later while others prefer to have all groups work on separate areas of the same document.
Find the right length of time: Typically a shorter breakout session is preferred to keep students from losing focus or leaving the room. There are times when a longer session is necessary to work on a more complex assignment.