One of the great advantages of teaching online is the plethora of apps and resources available at your fingertips. However, keeping students’ attention is harder in online classes. That’s why it’s important to have a dynamic teaching strategy where students are always interacting in different contexts throughout the whole class.
In online teaching, whenever you interact with the class there’s one thing for sure: you’re talking to all of the students at once, which can become a little tedious when it’s time for the students to interact between them. Depending on the size of the class combined with how many students are needed in your planned activity, means that a small subset of students will be interacting while the vast majority become passive listeners.
Luckily, in online environments, pair work and group work can work using breakout rooms. These rooms give you the ability to “break out” students out of the main room into smaller ones, and then join the main room whenever you decide.
Depending on the platform, you may have different ways of managing these smaller rooms. However, it mostly works the same way: As a teacher, you create the main room and the breakout rooms before the class even begins. Then, during class, you announce the activity in which the students will have to complete, as well as the clear tasks and the time these will take.
As a teacher, you can message these small rooms and even visit them, just as you would in a normal setting where students are grouped in tables. Once the tasks are complete, or the time limit is reached, the teacher can bring everyone back to the main room.
As I said earlier, depending on the platform, these breakout rooms might behave differently, but achieve the same goal.
Advantages of breakout rooms
Communication: In breakout rooms, multiple groups of students can interact and work on a task independently from other groups without interrupting the others’ tasks. This will also achieve greater communicative goals, as it will be more focused.
Participation: Students will be more likely to participate in smaller groups, and will be encouraged by their peers who share the same tasks.
Increased interaction: One thing to keep in mind is that students have other classes, so adding breakout rooms to your lesson plans will add variety to your classes. Moving from whole class, to groups, to pair activities will keep students motivated enough that you’ll get increased responses from your students.
How to plan great breakout rooms classes
Prepare in advance: As easy as it is to create breakout rooms, be sure to create these before the class. Also, all platforms let you name these rooms, so try with fun or recognizable names students can easily relate to.
Be clear: These activities while fun can tend to go over time, as students may love them too much (it happens to me all the time), so make sure the students have clear instructions and, of course, a time limit is set.
Time is the essence: In your lesson plan, leave room for the assigning part of these breakout rooms. It may take some time at first, but eventually you’ll get the hang of them.
Create breakout room leaders: Whenever a breakout room activity is done, plan time for feedback and group discussion. The best way to keep the time short during feedback is assigning a room leader who will represent the group and will be able to discuss.
So get out there (virtually), and build great breakout rooms into your lesson plans.
Breakout rooms are available on Zoom, Google Meet (slowly rolling out for enterprise users), and Microsoft Teams for Education (in Preview. Available late November for everyone)
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