Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Breakout Rooms: Best Practices

clip art of a computer with breakout rooms

Breakout rooms are a great way for students to work in small groups.  Here are some best practices to ensure your--and your students’--success using them.

Create breakout rooms

Just like in your physical classroom, setting up the small groups in advance wll solve some of the management issues involved in small group work. If your platform allows, you can create the breakout rooms in advance and pre-assign students to them.  How to decide which students go into which rooms?  You can group them by:

  • Topics
  • Tasks/Assignments
  • Students with complementary skills
  • Students with similar skills
  • Alphabetical
  • other

Determine breakout room structure

Determine the breakout room structure you will create. You can have breakout rooms that are:

  • Semi-structured. These are great for when a task is given but there is no need for a facilitator. 
    • Semi- structured breakout rooms might be good to elicit ideas on a topic or to reflect on learning. 
    • These rooms are also great for when random groupings are being used
  • Highly structured. These have both a task and a facilitator. 
    • Structured breakout rooms are great to use with a protocol (like a Glow/Grow feedback protocol or Hopes, or Success Analysis Protocol)  when working on group projects. 
    • These rooms work best when you have already assigned a project or larger on-going task.

Establish classroom norms with your students

Just like in your physical classroom, you should discuss with students and plan together to establish the norms for learning--and reinforce that they apply both in the larger classroom as well as to the smaller breakout rooms. Be sure to address:

  • What is responsible behavior?
  • What is inappropriate?
  • What students will do when they encounter inappropriate behavior? They can:
    • Name it and state that it should stop
    • Exit the breakout room and return to the larger class session
    • Tell you/other adult in the class

Save and share

These norms should be captured in a collaborative document (like a Google Doc) and shared with all students. 

  • You should treat this as a living document and add or remove parts agreed upon by the class as a whole.
  • Make sure to visit, and revisit, this document frequently with students. 
    • During the first few breakout sessions go over the established norms before heading into the rooms. 

Assign roles

Assign roles to your students such as:

  • Notetaker who takes notes
  • Moderator who ensures the group is on track and can report any issues back to you
  • Researcher who finds sources and resources for the group  to use
  • Timekeeper who make sure the group is on track and gives updates on how much time is left

Before assigning roles, make sure to review and model these roles with students. It’s also good to vary who does each role. Have a system for rotating roles, so that students get a chance to practice each role at some point during the unit/project assignment. 

Prepare materials in advance

You should set up spaces for each of the following: 

Note Taking: Create a system and space for note taking. Organize the notes in a way that makes sense.  You may want to have a section for a student who was assigned as a researcher to place links to sources and resources.   

Q&A or Backchanneling: Your students will have questions for you--or their classmates.  Set up a place--and process--where they can ask these questions without leaving the group. Can they:

  • Tag you in the chat?
  • Message you directly?
  • Add to a Q&A channel?

Help & Support

Create a way for students in breakout rooms to ask for help (to everyone) and a way for them to report any negative behavior (that goes just to you). 

  • Asking for help can be done using a collaborative document that all groups share with the facilitator, a chat feed, or some tools have an “ask for help” feature. 
  • Students should also have a direct line to you/other adults in order to raise or report issues privately. 

Practice makes perfect

Before doing a true breakout session (where students are expected to do work or collaborate with other students), practice a few times in the larger classroom space. 

  • Have students complete an ice breaker activity or other fun activity to get used to the expectations of a breakout session
  • Debrief what was easy/difficult about getting into a breakout session
  • Address any concerns or issues that came up during the debrief and add them to the established norms/expectations.

Share your drop-in protocols and notes

Let students know you may be dropping into breakout rooms to see how students are doing.

  • Know that depending on the sessions and the type of feedback you’re giving, you may not be able to visit every breakout room, every time.
    • In these instances, it may be helpful to have a schedule for yourself. For example, if you have 6 breakout sessions, you may visit 3 sessions one day, and the other 3 sessions the following day. 
  • Have a document set up to capture your observations and any feedback you gave to students.
    • Share common/unique findings/issues with all students once you’re back together as a whole class.
  • If possible, try to have another person help facilitate this process and bounce between the various breakout rooms. 
    • Some ideas for having another person drop into break out rooms include using an aide, student teacher, co-teacher, para-professional, or parent. Another idea is partnering with another teacher for this work. You may even have a student who might be good in such a role (but ensure that student changes so they also have an opportunity to participate

Breakout room duration

  • If a breakout room is used during a lesson, it should start out being used for short (approximately 10 minutes or less) brief activities. 
  • With secondary students, you can extend the amount of time spent in breakout rooms. In fact, they can eventually take the place of “work on your own/outside of class” for group project work.
  • For students working on group projects outside of class time breakout sessions will likely be longer.
    • If students need teacher support, set a time where you can join, for at least part of the time. 
    • If students don’t need support, set up the breakout room in advance for the students at their specified time.

Format and sharing

If you are doing a breakout room as part of class, you may want to bookend the use of breakout rooms with whole group instruction/discussion

  • Students can share the work they did in their breakout room with the larger group. This can include::
    • Sharing something they felt was important, new-to-them, Interesting, funny 
    • Sharing the part of the process that they:
      • Found easiest
      • Struggled with the most
      • Didn’t have a need for
      • Had to add/create
    • Sharing a document they collaborated on (new or on-going)

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