Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
TEACH Symposiuim

TEACH Symposium returning soon

The TEACH Symposium will pop up again November 30 to December 4, 2020. 

Learn more

Small group activities for Zoom breakout rooms

Below are some group work models that might help your students achieve the learning objectives you have planned for your class. 

Think-Pair-Share 

  1. Propose a question and allow students to think independently for some time.
  2. Create breakout rooms with two students in each room and ask the students to discuss in pairs. Help students to decide who speaks first and who will be the reporter using an equitable prompt such as selecting the person: whose first name is closest to the end of the alphabet, whose birthday is coming up the soonest, whose hometown is closest to campus, etc.
  3. Close breakout rooms and ask all or some reporters to share what they discussed in their pair. 

Instructors sometimes skip the think step of this model, but it is important to let students who need silence to process information have that time to think before others start talking. Furthermore, asking students to explain a concept to another student (i.e., reciprocal teaching) while in pairs, helps them learn the material better. Finally, students can compare their responses to those shared by other pairs during the last step and receive feedback from other students and the instructor. 

Jigsaw 

  1. Identify a learning module that can be broken into parts (e.g., students need to read four different research papers about a similar topic).
  2. Form small groups and have each group focus on one of the parts (e.g., each group reads one of the four papers). This can be completed asynchronously.
  3. During class, allow the groups to discuss their part with the goal of being able to explain it to other classmates.
  4. Reform the groups so that each new group has one member that focused on a different part. Each group member now explains their part to the new group.
  5. Provide the new groups with a problem to solve that requires the integration of the different parts. 

Make sure to only use this model for material that sensibly breaks into complementary or dependent parts. Otherwise, students may find little motivation to learn the other parts from their classmates. KP Cross Academy has a video example of the jigsaw activity for online learning.

Round robin 

  1. Pose an open-ended question to all students
  2. Give them some time to think independently
  3. Decide the order of sharing in breakout rooms
  4. Create breakout rooms and instruct students to allow each person to briefly share their response to the question. 

This activity allows every student in your course to share. Be explicit about how much you want students to share (e.g., one word, one sentence, or for one minute). Compared to Think-Pair-Share, groups are usually larger but the responses are generally shorter. In other words, Think-Pair-Share might allow students to delve deeper, but Round Robin allows them to hear more perspectives. 

Two-stage “exam” 

  1. Students complete an exam (or exam-like questions) individually, keep a copy of their responses, and submit another copy to the instructor. This can be completed asynchronously.
  2. Students are put into small groups, complete the same or similar exam, and submit their answers together. This can be completed during class in breakout rooms or groups can meet separately and complete the second stage by a certain deadline. 

It is not necessary that these “exams” be graded or worth a significant portion of a student’s grade. This could be used simply as a learning activity. If you do decide to grade this activity, it is recommended that the individual portion count for 85-90% of the grade and the group portion count for the rest, only if it is higher than the student’s individual score. In other words, if the student’s individual score is higher than their group score, their grade will be based solely on their individual score. The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative provides this more detailed description of two-stage exams (PDF).

One of the added benefits of an in-person two-stage exam is the immediate feedback that students receive when questions are asked in a multiple-choice format via scratch cards called IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) cards. These cards have a star hidden beneath the correct answer choice for each question, letting students know immediately if their group’s answer was correct or if they need to discuss which answer they should try next. You can create a digital version of IF-AT cards using Stanford Qualtrics. Contact ctl-stanford@stanford.edu if you need assistance creating an online version for your course.

Small group discussions 

For a variety of methods to structure small group discussions such as Snowballing, Strategic Questioning, and Writing Discussion, we recommend Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill's "The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking". The ebook is available through Stanford Libraries.

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2016). The discussion book: 50 great ways to get people talking. John Wiley & Sons. 

More News Topics