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Using Online Breakout Groups To Increase Student Engagement

Using breakout groups to increase student/student engagement

Instructional Challenge

In teaching online courses, students often need to chat and work collaboratively on a topic. Instead of working together in physical groups, instructors must leverage technology to enable student interaction. This document walks you through setting up and using breakout rooms in Zoom.


Using Zoom for Breakout Rooms

Setting Up a Zoom Session

You must first create a Zoom session. This is where students will go to work together while in the classroom. Note: Breakout groups are only available in sessions with 250 or fewer attendees. You can create up to 20 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each group.

  1. Sign in to your UW-Madison Zoom account.
  2. Select Schedule a meeting.
  3. Provide a name for the session (Example: Anthro 100 Tues/Thurs 11-11:50 am).
  4. Select Create.

Managing Breakout Room Sessions

Before the class session, think about group formation. How do you want to organize the students into groups for the planned activity?

Note: You can create up to 50 breakout rooms, and the number of attendees you can accommodate in each room is unlimited.

Zoom does have a feature to pre-load breakout groups ahead of time, but that workflow may be difficult to manage as it requires students to log in with the exact email used for assignments. The pre-loading workflow also takes additional time and technical skills. Visit Pre-loading Breakout Groups for instructions and more details. If pre-assigned groups are essential, we recommend considering the Let participants choose room workaround described below.

Follow these directions when you are in the Zoom session:

  1. Select the Breakout Room button. If the button is not visible, be sure you have entered the Zoom space through your Zoom portal (i.e., do not enter the session via the same link and passcode given to students).
  2. Enter the preferred number of breakout rooms.
  3. Select one of the following breakout room options:
    • Assign AutomaticallyIf pre-assigned groups are not essential to the activity, the quickest way to assign students to rooms in Zoom is to choose Assign Automatically.
    • Assign Manually: If pre-assigned groups are essential to the activity, use the Assign Manually feature to assign students to rooms individually. This option is less ideal for large class sizes.
    • Let participants choose room: If pre-assigned groups are essential, we recommend selecting "Let participants choose a room," allowing students to navigate themselves to pre-assigned room numbers rather than attempting the Zoom Breakout room pre-assign tool. Here is a suggested workflow for this option:
      • Send pre-assigned breakout room lists to students via email, Canvas, or shared Google Docs. Room #1: Student A, Student B, etc. Room #2: Student A, Student B, etc.
      • Plan extra minutes when students are asked to navigate to their room.
      • Select Let participants choose a room to enable students to move themselves to rooms.
  4. Select Create. The rooms will not open yet. A window titled Breakout Rooms—Not Started will open. If you have opted to assign students manually, you will drag and drop students here.
  5. Before selecting the Open all rooms button, Breakout Room Options can be adjusted by clicking the gear icon. Options include managing the countdown timer and allowing participants to move to the main room anytime.
  6. To open rooms, select Open all Rooms.
    1. If you have opted to assign students automatically, students will be automatically launched into their randomly assigned rooms.
    2. If you opted to assign manually, you should have dragged and dropped students before opening rooms.
    3. If you let students move themselves, they will receive a screen notification to join a room. The notification is only temporary. Students can click the breakout room button on the bottom of the Zoom screen to open the breakout room window. Students will either select the Join button next to the target room. Some operating systems require users to hover their cursor over the number of people in a room to make the Join button appear (it'll be a zero until other participants join the room).
  7. When breakout rooms are open, the instructor cannot reach students via chat from the main Zoom room (even though the chat says "everyone"). To announce all students in all rooms, select Broadcast message to all. The broadcasted message should be brief. It will only temporarily display at the top of students' screens and quickly disappear. Consider using a shared Google Doc for classes if sharing information with small groups is a common instructional need.
  8. Instructors can visit breakout rooms by selecting the Join button next to the target room. Some operating systems require users to hover their cursor over the number of people in a room to make the Join button appear (it'll be a zero until other participants join the room).
  9. Select Close All Rooms to end the breakout room session. The countdown timer will allow students time to finish their conversations. To shorten or lengthen the countdown timer, plan in step 5 above.

Keywordsbreakout groups, zoom, student engagement, breakout roomsDoc ID107901
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-12-15 17:14:44Updated2024-04-24 12:19:26
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring, Learn@UW-Madison
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