Recently, I was asked to facilitate a professional development session that focuses on strategies for facilitating small groups remotely. I am talking about situations when you have a number of groups going at one time and you can only be in one place at one time because everyone is working in breakout groups on Zoom. Here are four ideas that I’ve been thinking about (on my own or with my collaborator Sam Otten) and/or heard about.
Note: Updated to clarify how teachers can get students’ comments while in their groups given the limitations of chat from the breakout rooms (only teacher can broadcast to all when folks are in the breakout rooms). In particular, if you need to “chat” with students when they are in breakout rooms on Zoom, it is a one-way process (teacher to student via Broadcast). So other ways to do this might be:
- Padlet: Open up a Padlet and tell students to have it handy (like so). Check on it from time to time to make sure you are in communication.
- Jamboard: Create a Jamboard and you can use it similar to the Padlet above. Here’s an example with the groups headings pre-made.
- Google Doc: Create a Doc and have students type in their questions or ideas to share with you. You can also use the Chat feature within the Google Doc.
If you want to suggest that Zoom allow users to chat with the host even when in breakout rooms please suggest that feature on their website. The more who suggest the feature, the greater the odds of it becoming a reality!
If you have a set of tasks for your students to work on, or one single task, build in some check-in points. These are points where students are expected to meet up with you. For example, say I give students a set of 6 problems. I might tell students that once their group finishes the first three problems, they should check in with me. They might alert me they are ready through via the help button from the breakout room. Another option is to have a Padlet or a Jamboard open so students can “chat” with you via those options (just make sure that students know to do so and you have it open). You can also, if using Google Slides or Docs, have students chat with you via the Google chat feature (make sure to have the sound on). Out of these options, I prefer Padlet because I tend to use it the most, but you can also just do whatever way makes sense for you (choose the easiest for you to keep open). When you make it to the group, you can ask them some pre-planned questions to check in and see if they are attending to what you had hoped. You can ask them what was similar about the problems they just did, what was different, which was the most challenging, the easiest, etc. If you worry about everyone to getting to the check point at the same time, you can just vary where the check points are in their set of tasks.
I’ve heard several iterations of this idea. Basically, you can have rooms with different names that correspond to how students want to work (e.g., Quiet Room, Help Room, Discussion Room, Teacher Room). Students can help you to come up with the rooms they’d like to have a choice of and they can then self-select which room they want to work in (and change as needed). I love the idea of choice and having some flexibility in where you work might be just the thing to help engage your students a bit more.
When my collaborator Sam and I were brainstorming, he mentioned using the chat to monitor where students are in their task (though this is only possible if you are in the room they are in). I think this is a great idea for a quick check of the room. If in small groups, you might, after a few minutes, broadcast a message for groups to share where they are if they are working on a problem set or a complex task. The groups could note where they are (via Padlet, a Google Doc, Jamboard, or some other means) and you can use that to see, at a glance, if many of the groups are on a similar task or not. You could encourage two groups who seem to be stuck at a similar point to send representatives to the groups to get some additional ideas generated. You could also bring everyone together if they are at a good whole-group check-in point.
The Bat Signal
Some of you have probably seen a teacher give students different color cards or cups for their groups to indicate if they are stuck (red), have a question when you have a chance (yellow), or are doing well (green). You can adapt this idea for Zoom by having a representative from each group send you a message via one of the means mentioned above. If the students are in Google Slides working with their groups, you could have them change the background of the group slide to the color that corresponds with their status. This would allow you to help sequence which groups to visit in order of need. If students give you a red alert it is kind of like the bat signal, you are needed!
I am sure there are many other ideas for ways to be responsive to small groups on Zoom and I hope you share other things you’ve tried in the comments.