10 Effective Ways to Use Virtual Breakout Rooms

When learning in a non-traditional environment, students should be given opportunities to think out loud and to participate. Hence, we need to think of effective ways to use virtual breakout rooms.

Virtual breakout rooms have evolved into an indispensable tool for facilitating productive online meetings and virtual events. They allow participants to be divided into smaller groups, increasing collaboration, involvement, and interaction.

Virtual breakout rooms can considerably improve the experience of a remote team meeting, an online workshop, or a virtual conference. In this blog post, we’ll explore ten effective ways to use virtual breakout rooms to make your online gatherings more productive and engaging.

enriching online learning

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How to Promote Interaction in an Online Learning Environment?

Interaction in an online class should be part of the management of teachers. Just like in a traditional classroom, students should be given opportunities to work in groups and practice collaboration. With this, online teachers have to equip themselves with effective ways to use virtual breakout rooms.

Who says that small group learning isn’t possible in distance learning?

Group activities have been a crucial element for interactive student learning. Therefore, it should also play an important part in online learning where the learning process demands more interaction for more productive online lessons.

Incorporating interactive activities in online learning will make it better. In today’s big shift in education, students should make the most of their time learning and teachers should find ways to meet the students’ learning needs.

There are a plethora of advanced teaching tools and technologies that support interactivity in the virtual classroom. The use of virtual breakout rooms will boost students’ interactivity and will harness their skills for teamwork and collaboration.

Hence, this article dishes out effective ways to use virtual breakout rooms so teachers can utilize group activities to make student learning even more interesting and productive.


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Initial Set-Up

First and foremost, you should get training on how to use any of the popular virtual conferencing platforms to ensure productive and collaborative breakout sessions.

Whether you are using Zoom or Google Meet in your online classes, it’s very important that you know their features, especially in creating virtual breakout rooms to facilitate the small groups you created. This tutorial video can help if you are using Google Meet. You can also add this extension if you’d like.

On the other hand, if Zoom is what makes you comfortable, then check out this video for online classroom tools and tips for features of breakout rooms.

10 Effective Ways to Use Virtual Breakout Rooms

1. Make a Plan for Virtual Group Activities

To maximize your students’ learning time, you have to make a plan before you divide your students into small groups for the breakout sessions. Engaging students in learning in a virtual class should be planned to ensure organization and systematic flow.

Although there might be problems along the way, like poor internet connectivity, at least you have crafted a plan for another alternative option.

Make sure you plan things out the night before each day. Your group tasks should be indicated in your daily lesson plan and they should be parallel to your learning objectives.

For example,  the learning objective is to make students express their ideas and opinion on a certain topic using polite expressions, then your group activity could be an informal debate, think-pair-share, and many other interactive activities that hit such an objective.

2. Divide Students Accordingly

First of all, before you decide on the number of breakout rooms for a certain class activity, you have to consider the number of students you have and the desired tasks in your plan. Thoughtfully group students to ensure interaction in virtual spaces.

Dividing your students should be done properly. Remember to consider the students’ diversity. If you’re with a heterogeneous class you should group students heterogeneously too. Since each group will have its own virtual space, there should be an advanced learner to act as the leader or to guide the members.

But that doesn’t mean that the assigned overseer will be the moderator. Of course, everyone in the group should be given the best chance to express themselves.

This is how interactive virtual breakout spaces work. It’s quite similar in brick-and-mortar classrooms, only that they don’t interact physically.

If you happen to have a homogeneous class, say they are all advanced, then you should use a technique that will randomly split your students. Exhibit fairness and be systematic. Again, this should be part of your plan.

During a set time, students can interact productively if they understand clearly how they are grouped and divided. Make it clear to them from the beginning so your student will not be wondering why he or she is in that group and not on the other.

For this matter, you can either randomly assign or manually assign your students to their respective breakout rooms. It depends on your target for the day or your learning objective.

3. Implement House Rules for Each Breakout Room

Managing virtual breakout rooms can be made systematic and organized if you and your students decide on the netiquettes at the very beginning. The preparation of the virtual classroom rules and norms should involve your students so it will be fair and you reach a common interest.

Moreover, the implementation of house rules should be consistent. It’s crucial to this type of learning since you can’t manage them physically.

For example, in my experience, I usually instruct my students on optional camera use. I know some of them feel awkward,  intimidated, and conscious when they talk. If it’s really necessary, or the group feels comfortable using the camera while having their small meeting, then that’s totally fine. You just have to make it clear from the start.

Another important thing that I always include in my instructions is not to allow screenshots and recordings of short meetings or even at the main hall. If the situation requires verification, I am the one to take the screenshot but I have to make sure that everyone looks fine on the camera. No awkward poses. Anyway, this is just for record purposes.

Your students should be certain about what to do and what they should not do. Clear-cut rules should be presented before small group learning happens.

Also, in the virtual breakout room,  students are encouraged to become independent learners so they have to be aware of what to follow.

Setting clear and consistent house rules can make virtual breakout rooms successful. Typically, if things are not clear to your students, it may result in poor interaction in the virtual spaces you’ve created for them.

4. Give Clear, Specific Instructions

With our full embrace of the hybrid learning model, we should make the instructional delivery effective. One of the important aspects to make online classes productive aside from the technical factors is setting clear instructions for the students to follow.

give clear instructions

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No clear instructions can mean confusion and get disorganized.

Moreover, facilitating small-group discussions in different breakout rooms is made more effective if you give students directions before they are split.

For example, if you are to require your students to use Google sheets for collaboration, then you should instruct them clearly on how to use it and why they should use it.

Or if you require your students to create presentations for their group or individual outputs, the rubric should be presented so they are aware of how they are graded.

Moreover, by clearly emphasizing that they have to be friendly with their classmates and to follow your instructions seriously, they will be more encouraged to display positive behavior. It’s a simple act of creating community in your online classes.

Make directions clear to your students so they can perform breakout activities efficiently.

5. Visit Each Virtual Room

Just like in a face-to-face small learning discussion, you can also hop in from one group to another in a virtual setting. Popping into breakout rooms can help you monitor and facilitate learning tasks.

Should students need assistance in their virtual space, you could easily address their needs because you could just come in any time.

Furthermore, as you make rounds in the different breakout rooms, you can easily monitor what your students are doing or where they are in their discussion.

6. Set a Time Schedule for the Breakout Activities

How much time is allotted for the breakout sessions? Have you indicated that in your plan? Again, this should be part of the plan. Our number 1 strategy here in this post is really significant, isn’t it?

You have to consider the length of the whole session for a specific day.  Make a schedule sensibly. By giving students a definite time to finish their tasks, they will learn how to budget their work and make the most of the time.

Moreover, as the manager, you should emphasize to your students that they should initiate time-on-task schemes to train them for life as well.

7. Allow Immediate ‘feedback’ in the Main Room

Once your students meet in their respective breakout rooms, they should be back in the main session hall as scheduled. Ask them what went right and what went wrong. Each group should assign somebody to discuss problems encountered and share best practices.

Remember, we are still in the process of learning how to use different videoconferencing platforms; hence, it is expected that there are pitfalls along the way. We learn as we experience them in a real scenario not just what we learned from our training and seminars.

This will allow students to reflect on what transpired in the different breakout rooms. Their experience will help you see more options on how to make your future virtual breakout sessions productive.

8.  Case Studies and Problem Solving

Breakout rooms allow participants to collaborate to examine scenarios and come up with answers for problem-solving exercises or case studies.

Assign each area a case study or a challenging problem to work through jointly. This method promotes critical thinking and teamwork.

In other words, breakout rooms are virtual places within a larger conference or class where participants can engage in smaller group conversations. Depending on your platform’s settings, each room can handle a particular number of participants.

9. Relationship Building

Use breakout rooms to facilitate networking sessions where students can meet and interact with others who share their interests or goals. This can lead to valuable connections and partnerships.

If your course involves group projects or collaboration, breakout roos can lay the foundation for effective teamwork by helping students establish rapport and trust.

10. Icebreaker Activities

Starting a virtual class with an icebreaker activity can help break the ice and make students feel more comfortable. Assign each breakout room a different icebreaker task, such as two truths and a lie or a fun trivia game. This not only encourages interaction but also sets a positive tone for the rest of the class.

Icebreakers help students get to know each other, fostering a sense of community within the class. This can be especially important in the beginning of a course or if your class involves students who don’t know each other well.

Engaging activities can energize students and make them more attentive to the subsequent class content. This can be particularly helpful in long or dense lectures.


Are you using Google Meet? Check out this teacher guide and tutorial to explore the use of breakout rooms.

Concluding Thoughts

The virtual breakout rooms give teachers a rich opportunity to differentiate instruction while at the same time giving students equally enriching learning activities.

The virtual spaces encourage students to think out loud and express themselves. Moreover, when they are interacting with their groupmates, they develop relationships and become confident in expressing their thoughts.

Utilizing breakout rooms can be advantageous to both teachers and students if it’s done systematically. It’s really helpful to promote interactive learning.

Do you have additional ideas to share on how to use breakout rooms efficiently and effectively? Comment below and let’s make our online instructional delivery more productive.