Break It Out!

How to Use Breakout Rooms in Zoom

Core scripture: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” (Luke 10:1)

Message: I have this problem.  One of my remote classes has 37 students.  I have to scroll across two full screens to see all their faces on Zoom.  Very few have the courage to unmute themselves to speak to the entire audience.  Even one student admitted that she talks a lot more in person than on Zoom, and she didn’t really know why.

What I have found is that this is true for not only my large class of 37; it actually is true for ALL my classes!  Even I find myself muted more often than not on Zoom in my own meetings.  I can relate.  This causes a major problem in checking for understanding of students.  How can we be sure learning is happening?

Last Tuesday I found a huge help to that problem.  My students were working independently on a project, and I decided to divide them up into Zoom breakout rooms of four to five kids per room.  It was like a light went on in some.  I bounced from room to room, checking on their progress, and what I noticed was that more and more kids were unmuting themselves to communicate with me.

Jesus knew this as well.  When He began His ministry, He did not send the disciples out together.  He intentionally dispersed them two by two to spread the Good News.  He broke them down, and it was amazing to see what they accomplished simply by spreading out.  We as teachers can do the same with our students by chunking them into smaller more manageable groups.

I am realizing that Zoom breakout rooms are essential for success, and as I continue remote teaching, I am seeing lots of different scenarios and reasons for utilizing them.  Here are a few:

  1. They allow interaction.  Students need to be talking to one another.  Sometimes just talking through a concept with a small group can make learning stick.  Offering the opportunity for students to teach each other like this gets them closer to mastery of a concept.
  2. They allow for differentiation.  One of my smaller classes I divided by skill level last week.  I put them into three different categories based on their ability level, and I allowed the para to interact with the lower learners.  My high level kids were fine on their own, and the mid-level kids felt more comfortable sharing with one another knowing they were with other students about the same speed.
  3. They help me connect.  This is the most impersonal year of teaching I have ever experienced.  Breaking those kids down gets me to see a different side of them.  They begin to open up.  They share more questions.  They help me learn what makes them tick.  Even just 30 seconds in a breakout room can help bridge that gap that separates us.

If you are a remote teacher, give the breakout rooms a shot!  Just be sure you give specific directions to your students before sending them off.  Practice using them on small tasks, then go bigger.  Even if it is having them share about their weekends together, breakout rooms are great for both students and teachers. 

Challenge: Start small with breakout rooms, and then go big.  I had a colleague who e-mailed the entire staff about how proud she was of herself using breakout rooms for the first time the other day.  She was just intimidated about not being techy enough to do it, but it worked out.  Believe me, if she can do it, you can too!

Video application: Need a quick tutorial about how to use Zoom breakout rooms?  Check out this YouTube video that walks you through it step by step.  I found it very helpful.

Prayer: Father, grant me wisdom on how to use Zoom breakout rooms to better my students’ remote learning experience.  Amen.

(I always invite suggestions from fellow teachers about topics you would like me to consider for future blog posts.  Is there anything you are struggling with that you would like me to write about?  Let me know.  Contact me anytime at with ideas on what you would like to hear.)

Categories: Uncategorized

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