In physical classrooms, breakout groups are an active learning technique that helps students more deeply engage their peers and course materials. Zoom breakout rooms approximate this functionality in synchronous virtual learning contexts by allowing students to interact more intensively with a smaller number of classmates. You can create breakout rooms dynamically or “on-the-fly” during a Zoom session. You can also pre-configure them ahead of time, either manually or with the use of prepared spreadsheets. Note that only meeting Hosts can implement breakout rooms.
On-the-fly creation of Breakout Rooms
- As Host of the meeting, click on the Breakout Rooms icon towards the right end of the Zoom toolbar. If you don’t see the icon and you’re sure you’re Host, look for an ellipsis (…) icon, which appears if your screen is not wide enough to accommodate the full toolbar. Additional options may be shown there.
- In the pop-up window, enter the desired number of breakout groups. Choose Automatically to randomly assign students to groups or Manually to fine-control the assignments. Then click Create Rooms.
- Use the controls in the next screen to adjust the configuration of the rooms, if desired: e.g., move or exchange (swap) participants between rooms, or add a room.
- Click Options to adjust settings for the rooms:
- Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically: pushes all students into rooms when Open All Rooms is clicked. Deselecting this option requires students to click a Join button to join their assigned group.
- Allow participants to return to the main session at any time: allows students to leave the breakout room before any time limit is reached.
- Breakout rooms close automatically after X minutes: limits the time the breakout rooms will be open.
- Countdown after closing breakout room: a grace period to allow wrap up commentary before students automatically return to the main session.
- After viewing / adjusting options, click the Options button again to hide the option panel and finally click Open All Rooms to start the breakout sessions. Students will return to the main session automatically when the allotted time expires or manually when they have completed their activities, depending on the configuration. Students will see a Leave Room button that allows them to return to the main session during the end-of-session countdown or at any time if you’ve allowed it.
- As Host, the instructor may Join any of the breakout groups in progress to facilitate discussion. Use the Join button next to a group to Join that group and the Leave Room button to leave the breakout room and go back to the main session, from which you can Join another group via the Breakout Rooms icon on the toolbar.
If you wish to send a message to all students, you can do so via the “Broadcast a message to all” button.
Click in the message area to compose the message and then click Broadcast to send.
You may manually close the breakout rooms at any time with the Close All Rooms button. You can temporarily hide the Breakout Rooms pop-up window by clicking the X in the upper right and recall it again at any time via the Breakout Rooms icon in the main toolbar.
Pre-creation of Breakout Room Memberships
If you prefer not to spend valuable instructional time during live sessions configuring breakout room memberships, you have the option of pre-configuring these memberships for any scheduled meeting. This is done via settings in your Zoom web interface.
- Visit https://rutgers.zoom.us/meeting. This URL jumps you directly to the Meetings area in your Zoom profile.
- Find the relevant meeting and click its link:
- Scroll towards the bottom of the screen and select Edit this Meeting:
- Scroll down in the Meeting Options area, select Breakout Room pre-assign and then either Create Rooms for manual manipulation using the interface or Import from CSV for use of a text-based spreadsheet for pre-assignments. Press Save to save your changes.
Clicking +Create Rooms presents a dialog that allows manual creation of rooms and student assignees.
Select the room whose membership you wish to populate. In the Add participants box, begin typing the desired name to get auto-suggestions based on Rutgers identities. You may also type their email@example.com if you know it. Press Save when you are finished. This returns you to the Meeting Options page. Press Save again to save all your changes. Instead of this manual entry process in the graphical interface, you may also choose the Import from CSV option.
From this screen you can download a template CSV spreadsheet to help you get started associating firstname.lastname@example.org addresses with desired room names or drop in / browse to an already prepared csv file for upload. After uploading a file, you may take a moment to review or manually adjust the rooms and finally press Save to save this breakout configuration to this meeting’s settings.
After the interface returns you to the main Meeting Options area for the meeting you are editing, remember to press the large Save button at the bottom of the screen to save all changes to the meeting settings.
When the meeting starts, you can press the Breakout Rooms icon on the toolbar to pull up the preconfigured rooms and use them as if you had created them on-the-fly (see above).
Handling Multiple Email Logins for Breakout Rooms
You may find that some students you pre-assign to breakout rooms are not being properly placed in them during meetings. This is most likely due to the student logging with a different email address than you used for the assignment. In other words, they may have used email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org.
One way around this is to include both forms of each student’s address when you preassign breakout rooms. So the template file you use would look like this:
Keep in mind you can add breakout room pre-assignments for recurring meetings only if you do the entire series—you can't pre-assign to just a single instance of a series.
If you want to see what email addresses were used by students in previous meetings, you can run a report on a meeting that has already occurred.
To run the report and see the email addresses:
- Visit https://rutgers.zoom.us/account/report
- Click “Usage” to generate a report that includes participant details.
- Select the date range during which the meeting occurred and then click Search. You can use the same date in the From and To field if you remember exactly when the meeting occurred.
- The search should identify the meeting. The number in the Participants column indicates the number of people who joined. This should be clickable.
- Clicking the participants number should pop up a window with a list of the participants. There is an Export button near the top if you want to save the results. The email column in that report shows you the email address associated with the Zoom account each student used to sign into the meeting.
- This is the email address that needs to be in the breakout pre-assignment template for it to capture that student’s login during the breakout process.
Recording and other artifacts in Breakout Rooms
If you plan to record your Zoom meeting for later use, you should be aware that the recording you initiate in the main session will not capture the activities in breakout rooms. Participants in the rooms may choose to Record the sessions if you have granted them that permission before starting the rooms, but their recordings will not be directly accessible to you as Host, as they will be stored as local files on the participants’ computers. However, such recordings may still be useful as a way for students to capture their breakout session for their later review or to submit as part of an assignment. If you, the Host, join an individual breakout room, the main session recording will pause. You can choose to enable recording in the breakout room for whatever time you spend there, but that recording can only be done to a file on your computer and not in the cloud. In short, any recordings done in breakout rooms are saved only to the local computer of the person recording them, and recording sessions enabled in the main Zoom room will not follow the host to breakout rooms.
The behavior of Zoom’s Chat feature across the main session and breakout rooms also warrants some awareness. Participants in breakout rooms will not see Chat messages sent from the main session and Chat messages made in breakout rooms will not be visible in the main session. If permitted, Chat logs that are saved via the Save Chat item (see the ellipsis item in the bottom of the Chat screen) will reflect this situation. The Host may use the Broadcast message to communicate with everyone in all rooms simultaneously, and participants can use the Ask for Help button in the toolbar to invite the Host to the breakout room for help. Similarly, Polls are only visible to participants when they are in the main room.