5 tips for using breakout rooms in remote teaching

Online learning is never going to be the same as a real classroom, but breakout rooms can help bridge the gap, writes Katherine Cummins

Katherine Cummins

Home learning could go on for majority until mid-March

Live lessons connect teachers and pupils but they are very different from the hubbub of a real lesson.

Breakout rooms, however, can bring back the much-missed social interaction, plus we know that online collaboration is extremely valuable for wellbeing and leads to better learning outcomes. 

Here’s how to use breakout rooms most effectively:

1. Understand the basics

Breakout rooms allow you to separate the participants in a meeting into mini meetings, either randomly or manually. They allow pupils to work in groups before returning to the main meeting.

As such, they are a powerful way to enhance pupils’ confidence and to foster communication among pupils, and between pupils and teachers. These mini meetings have all the functionality of the main meetings: recording option, chat bar, file sharing and screen sharing. 

2. Personalise the rooms

Once pupils are in their breakout rooms, the group work begins. Pupils can bounce ideas off each other in a less intimidating environment. They can get things wrong and correct each other; they can share a joke and motivate each other. In form time, you could assign groups according to the seating plan and they can check in on each other, as they would do naturally in class.

You can see what pupils are doing by joining the rooms and talking to them or by monitoring the discussions on the chat bar. The chat bar also allows you to upload documents to each room, which is handy for differentiation. Assign pupils manually to avoid behavioural issues. Set time limits to encourage better concentration and make sure all pupils have a copy of the task before you open the rooms.

3. Highlight kindness and courtesy

Some pupils may be tempted to slip into poor behaviour in groups without teachers. Our pupils are kind and courteous to each other in classrooms, and we tell them that we expect the same behaviour online. Remind them that meetings are recorded and inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated.

4. Assign roles

To ensure that pupils collaborate, give them roles: group leader, scribe and timekeeper, for example. For weaker groups or reluctant speakers, introduce a participation rubric or encourage a minimum level of participation. Explain the tangible benefits of group work: improved confidence leads to improved learning. 

5. Get feedback

My pupils were keen to embrace breakout rooms, recognising that they made lessons more “like school”. They said they felt more comfortable working in smaller groups and enjoyed how normal it felt. They were quick to ask to use them again.

Our pupils are coping remarkably well with the challenges of online learning. They are achieving more than they realise. Congratulate them in lessons or assemblies and send positive emails home. Your pupils will thank you for it.

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Katherine Cummins

Katherine Cummins is a secondary English teacher at a state school in the South East of England

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