Break out of the online routine: Tips and Hints on how to use "breakout rooms " with MS Teams

 Break out of the online routine!

Tips and hints on how to use "breakout rooms" with MS Teams

One of the problems of online teaching is that interaction is usually limited to plenary form i.e. Teacher to Students or Student to Teacher (and class). “Breakout rooms” accommodate the need for pair work and group work by creating smaller virtual rooms to host pair or group meetings during the main session.

Although the feature is user friendly, -it only takes a few clicks to set them up- many educators feel uneasy with the idea of allowing learners to be allowed to act autonomously online.  For this reason, this post will not focus on the technical details – you can watch here an introduction- but on how to apply effectively the technique  with your online classes.


§ Give clear instructions

Once your students are in the breakout rooms, they are highly likely to forget your instructions. Give clear instructions and check understanding by asking one or two students to explain what the class has to do. Alternatively ask concept check questions. This is to ensure that you will not have pairs or groups lagging during the activity. It will also allow you to focus on observing the level of language  rather than rushing from one (virtual) room to another to repeat instructions.

§  Set a deadline

   The sudden sense of privacy, after prolonged exposure to plenary sessions, is likely to tempt learners to chat about trivial issues. Setting a tight time limit will help them focus on the task. You can make a written announcement, which is visible to all the rooms and participants, shortly before the deadline expires or remind them the instructions if necessary.  

Assign an end-product

This will give students a purpose and combined with the time limit (see above), it helps them concentrate on the task and make the most of the time given. It will also give you a clear picture of the work done during the activity and allow you to give learners delayed feedback based on the end-product of the activity. Students can also send you their notes or end-product through the chat. 

  Move from room to room

Your brief presence in every room can be reassuring for learners who may need support during the task. It is also a way to remind them that you are present even if they are in a separate virtual room and that you can mingle with them, more or less in the way you do in class when learners work in pairs or groups.

Create a genuine information gap

At the end of the day, it is methodology and pedagogy that count. If the task you have assigned is not communicative; it does not require collaboration; there is no need to bridge a gap with information with the contribution of all the members of the group, then no matter how impressive “break out rooms” are.

  My experience

My pupils loved it and welcomed the opportunity to work in pairs and group after months of working individually or as a plenary. Covid19 restrictions and social distancing hindered pair or group work, but now they are given the opportunity to interact with their peers and exchange ideas and views. In terms of language practice, it allows them to practice and the teacher can observe the strengths of the class and they areas they need to work on. 

If you are still in two minds, all you can do is try it with your class and enjoy a break out of the online lesson routine!

Dimitris Primalis 



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