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Use breakout rooms to help students struggling with isolation

If adults are struggling with the effects of social distancing, lockdown and isolation, it comes as no surprise that students have also been impacted by the sudden shift to online-only learning. Children are in need of interactions with peers and school mates, and virtual classrooms might result in some learners feeling isolated and alone and is just one of the 9 challenges of the virtual classroom.

Some schools have set up protocols to address this issue as best as possible. For example, schools in New Zealand have set up virtual rooms that learners can join during their break times to interact with one another as they would while eating lunch at school. While it doesn’t solve the challenge of isolation entirely, the small action does go a long way in helping students feel connected and that there’s a safe space for them to engage with each other. 

What are breakout rooms?

The term “breakout room” refers to a group virtual call separating into smaller groups. Most video platforms used for online learning, such as Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams, have the breakout room feature. 

Breakout rooms offer a number of neat features and a myriad of opportunities:

  • They allow the teacher to decide how many learners enter a ‘room’ at one time.
  • The teacher has access to each room meaning they can offer support if needs be. They are also able to keep tabs on the students’ progress in certain areas. 
  • Students are able to return to the home room’ to ask or interact with the teacher if they need to. 
  • It takes the pressure off students to engage with a big class and interact with a smaller group.

Setting up the breakout rooms successfully

As with traditional classes, there should be some form of expectation set up for the activities in the online class. In order to make the most of the breakout rooms, setting up expectations and ground rules is vital. Think about creating levels of engagement, asking that every learner turns their microphone on to talk at least once, or possibly even incorporating a rubric and peer assessment per room. 

Using technology and virtual classrooms can be a scary task (yes, even after conducting classes online for so long!). To make the most of the virtual opportunities, it’s important to change things up, keep things fresh and explore new opportunities to keep online learning engaging. Trial various methods of teaching using breakout rooms in order to tap into each different learning style to suit all the learners in the class, and make sure to encourage the learners every step of the way.

Don’t only use breakout rooms – rock them!

There are many ways to use a breakout room effectively. Teachers can use them in simple ways, like separating learners into smaller groups of 2 or 3 students to encourage discussions and garner possible feedback in the ‘home room’.

Using breakout rooms also offers the opportunity for teachers to interact with learners who need a one-on-one engagement if they have a question that they don’t want to pose in front of the entire class. 

In group activities, breakout rooms are extremely effective. Learners can be given the choice of which room they would prefer to enter instead of being assigned a group. In this way, there’s also an opportunity to cater to different styles of learning online. Students can opt for a discussion room with other learners with their mics on, enter a silent workroom with their mics on mute or rather engage with the teacher in a one-on-one room. 

 Adding in a creative flair to the space, some teachers have set up more extravagant break out rooms. These include virtual escape rooms with riddles and puzzles to be solved by groups of learners in each breakout room. There’s also the option of incorporating games in the breakout rooms using other platforms like Google Slides and Jam Board to spice up the breakout room experience. 

There are several other challenges posed by the virtual-only classroom. In this series, we’re exploring ways to get the best out of the online learning experience for students, parents and teachers. Read more to find out how!

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