Concrete ideas to make better use of breakout rooms in virtual classrooms

How to advantageously use breakout rooms in distance education? Here are some examples of winning uses of these famous sub-rooms.

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We often hear that the use of discussion rooms for subgroups (breakout rooms) is a winning element to promote engagement in distance education. However, in practice, it is not that simple! Here are some examples of winning uses of these famous sub-rooms!

In a virtual classroom, the teacher typically takes up most of the conversation during a synchronous lesson. It is quite difficult for students to participate or think out loud in this environment.

However, we know that the use of discussion rooms for subgroups (breakout rooms) is a winning element in fostering engagement during distance education. We imagine ourselves creating a community of students who learn from each other and make good use of the time available to them.

This is what Marc Proulx, French teacher at 1er secondary cycle in Quebec. During the two weeks of distance school after the holidays, he enthusiastically launched his students into a small group activity in sub-rooms. After a few minutes, he noticed that absolutely nothing was happening: the young people had remained in total silence, with their cameras closed… “What a mistake on my part! », He admits today, laughing. Being the very first teacher who used the sub-rooms with these students, they had no idea how to put themselves into action, especially since they came from two different bubble classes: the link between them did not was not there.

Teacher Samantha Shane, as she explains in a recent Edutopia article, also faced closed cameras before changing strategy. She also shares five ideas that she has experimented with and which have improved the experience of the famous sub-rooms. We have also spotted other concrete ideas on the web that seem interesting to try.

We will summarize them for you.

1. Individual tasks first, group tasks then

For Samantha Shane, assigning students individual tasks before placing them in groups helps foster more meaningful discussions, centered on the work done just before and inviting everyone to share in order to synthesize ideas. Students can even be asked to record their discussion, which holds them accountable for their contributions and provides an opportunity for formative assessment.

2. Focus on team building (team building), the content will come next

Start with an activity of team building In small groups, it is possible to build relationships, share ideas and practice communication skills. “When I let the students choose their groups and limit the number of participants in the sub-rooms, they talk more and have a less stressful experience. As they get more comfortable with each other, I change the groups, ”she explains.

The need for social and emotional connection is especially great during the pandemic and in distance learning. Use strategies from SEL (social emotional learning, or social and emotional learning) in the sub-rooms promotes the gradual development of a sense of community in the classroom. Over time, Samantha Shane notes, they also become more likely to participate in content-related activities.

3. Assign roles to students

To help young people to appropriate the work in sub-rooms, one can assign roles such as group leader, document curator, time keeper, etc. The group leader will help set expectations and keep the group on track. If the discussion ceases or deviates from the task, he can bring it all back. Also, the one who has the role of curator can take notes and organize the information shared between members of the group.

4. Take walks between the virtual rooms

When separating her students into sub-groups, Ms. Shane sometimes leaves the option that students can walk from room to room (option available in Zoom, among others). She initially names some students as “presenters”. These remain in the rooms to share information with those who come to visit them (mini presentation, teaching by peers, exhibition of works, etc.). The timer function is used to indicate when it is time to change rooms so that students are always on the move. The next time, the young people change roles. They also record their findings in a Google document as they progress in the activity.

5. Establish standards and expectations with students

“At the start of the school year, my students set the standards and expectations for the class,” says Shane. Allowing students to create the basic rules of how the group works, especially online, improves their use of sub-rooms, she notes. Young people are aware of the expectations of the group and what they need to contribute, and they understand what is expected of them.

At all times, Samantha Shane recalls, it's about creating and nurturing a space for students to connect, think, grow and collaborate. Moreover, the teacher plans to continue using most of her new strategies even when returning to class: establishing standards for groups, assigning roles and responsibilities, and keeping time for individual work in preparation for classroom activities. group. She expects this to have a positive impact on the effectiveness of the collaboration.

For her part, Jennifer Brown, from EdTech Magazine, invites you to stop striving for perfection. For example, if you are worried that you may not be spending enough time in all the sub-rooms, remember that it might be the same in class ... 

Other ideas in bulk 

Rooms with "atmosphere": in a Google Slides page for example, insert images of doors, one of which will lead to a sub-room (a meeting) where you will have to be in silence, the other to a room where the reflection with an open microphone will be encouraged, another with background music, why not! Another could be the one to reach the teacher for help.

To go further with the idea of “doors”, each could also lead to a collaborative wall or a Jamboard, preparing the team members to work on the same ready-made document that the teacher can consult in real time.

Do you have the chance to teach at a distance only if a bubble-class is closed? The habits will be more difficult to install, but a simple and appreciated use of the sub-rooms by Marc Proulx is to use them as a virtual "corridor", to be able to speak to a student or to help him in private while the others are. to the job.

And you, what are your best experiences using breakout rooms? Share them with us and our readers in the comments! 

Dimension (s) of digital competence related to this article
5- Collaborate using digital technology

To see the Framework.

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About the Author

Audrey Miller
Editor of École branchée magazine, Audrey holds a graduate degree in educational technology and a bachelor's degree in public communication. A member of the Professional Federation of Quebec Journalists (FPJQ), she is particularly interested in news related to the professional development of teachers, information in the digital age and media education. She has been active in building bridges in the educational ecosystem since 1999. These days she is particularly involved in Edteq Association and as a member of the ACELF Communications Committee. When she has free time, she is passionate about her children, rabbits, horses, good wine and ... web programming!

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