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Expectations Ensure Engagement

Outlining clear expectations for small-group work in remote settings


When rolling out any routine or procedure, it is critical for educators to provide their students with clear and precise expectations for what to do and how students can engage. The engagement piece is key, and with remote and hybrid learning now serving as the norm for many classrooms, getting students to engage can be even more challenging. One way to help students stay engaged is to ensure that they know how they will participate in any given activity, especially when they are “away” from their teacher in small breakout groups.

Breakout groups can be one of the best ways for students to engage with one another and with the content, but it can also be difficult to monitor breakout rooms when you’re teaching remotely or in a hybrid setting (with some students joining the small group remotely while others are in person). To ensure maximum engagement, create and share clear expectations with your students for breakout groups. Consider including the following as you plan:

  • Before releasing students into breakout rooms:
    • Allow for pre-thinking prior to inviting students to breakout rooms. This can be especially helpful for students who are internal processors and prefer having more time to silently think about what they must do.
    • Plan breakout groups for short amounts of time with one task to accomplish or a short list of questions to answer so that you can keep students engaged and on-task.
    • Keep the number of students per breakout room small (three to five students) so that students are more likely to participate and have enough time for each student to share.
    • Share instructions with students for their time in breakout groups and include what they need to have finished by the end of the activity; conduct multiple checks for understanding to ensure students have clarity before leaving to work together.
    • Give students a checklist or a list of specific action items so that they’re aware of what needs to be accomplished during their time together.
  • During breakout group work time:
    • To help students kick off their conversation promptly, create unique ways to determine which student will speak first in the group (e.g., the student who is the oldest or is wearing red goes first).
    • Assign or have students choose roles for their breakout groups so that each person has something that they’re responsible for (e.g., time-keeper, note-taker, presenter).
    • Join each breakout room at least once during each session to actively monitor student progress and engagement.
    • Actively monitor the “ask for help” feature on Zoom during breakout sessions should students have questions.
  • After breakout group sessions:
    • Cold-call students to discuss the task from the breakout session.
    • Positively narrate behaviors you saw or comments you heard during your observations and monitoring.
    • Have students evaluate their participation in the group via Google Forms or the chat feature on your video conferencing platform.

Strategy Resources

Breakout Group Work Expectations

This slidedeck shares breakout group expectations and a note about facilitation. Learn More