Combating the awkwardness of breakout rooms

October 8, 2020 — by Anjali Nuggehalli
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While Zoom breakout rooms are notorious for their uncomfortable silences, there is a simple solution to feeling more at ease 


High school is full of awkward moments.

Whether it is tripping in the middle of the quad or getting called out for being on your phone during class, every student has faced some sort of mortification in their high school journey. 

You may assume that with the transition to remote learning, the chance of encountering an awkward situation would lessen. Simply stay on mute, blend into the 30 other boxes on your screen, and you will easily remain under the radar. 

But with the increasing use of Zoom breakout rooms in online classes this year, students are finding themselves in uncomfortable situations almost every period. 

While breakout rooms are indeed an effective way to encourage collaborative work, students often complain about the awkwardness of working in small groups on Zoom. 

To my fellow peers, I am here to tell you that Zoom breakout rooms will never equate to the casual, in-person conversations with classmates. There is no way to simulate that level of comfort in an online world. But there is a solution to dreading the stiff conversations that are seemingly inevitable in breakout rooms: Simply embrace the awkwardness. 

If your go-to move in breakout rooms is to keep yourself on mute (or even turn your camera off), you are essentially handing the responsibility of carrying conversations to the other people in your group. This causes a chain reaction of sorts, as no one in your group will want to take initiative to lead the discussion.

As a result, your attempt to remain inconspicuous in your breakout room has led to your entire group staring at each other in silence. 

Instead, jump into the discussion as soon as you are put into breakout groups. You may feel obnoxious for being the first person to talk, but trust me when I say that the rest of your group will appreciate you for it. 

By starting the conversation, you have already made your peers more comfortable and most will gladly follow your lead.

Your discussion does not even have to be limited to the assignment at hand. Ask your peers how their week is going, what classes they are taking or what their weekend plans are — in short, anything to break the ice.

It may seem forced to ask these questions, but in a world where social interaction is so limited, I guarantee that your peers will be grateful that someone is interested in how their life is going. 

Teachers should also provide extensive discussion questions for students that go beyond the surface level in order to stimulate engaging conversations. While it is sometimes uncomfortable or awkward, teachers should also pop into the breakout room and observe to ensure that everyone is participating. 

Zoom breakout rooms will never match the ease of socialization that comes with talking to people in real life. Making an effort to stay engaged with your peers, however, will make the online learning experience so much easier to endure.

Next time you feel your discussions in breakout sessions coming to a close, I challenge you to keep your microphone and camera on. Remember: Embrace the awkwardness, and you will find that maybe Zoom breakout rooms need not be so painful after all.





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