Active Learning Online: Leveraging Zoom Breakout Rooms for Peer Instruction


Peer instruction class time is easy to convert to the online format using Zoom Breakout rooms. This works well for converting recitations to an online format for the Spring. Breakout rooms can also be leveraged for think-pair-share in synchronous lectures.


The pandemic has forced us to convert much of what we do in the classroom. Zoom breakout rooms allows for a virus-free way to maintain highly interactive peer instruction with teacher or TA support. This allows active learning to be maintained online.


  • Consistent access to help from peers and an instructor/TA
  • Normalize question asking
  • Targeted teaching on misconceptions
  • Real-time feedback
  • Real connection with other learners
  • Reduced grading time
  • Student’s responses to the content are more apparent
  • Easy to implement, free (UNL has a license)


  • Provide problems for students to work through together. Require them to share the worksheet on their screen so they can all annotate in their Breakout Room to work together.
  • Divide students into groups of 3-5 in Zoom breakout rooms. This provides a 'circle table' environment like you have in a recitation.
  • Encourage students to 'call in the host' (equivalent of raising their hand) frequently so that the instructor can move around the rooms answering questions to support the groups.
  • Provide questions that the team must answer orally with the instructor. These questions can focus on overarching ideas or target common misconceptions.

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I used breakout rooms a lot this semester. The only issue I had was non-random room. How exactly do students self-select? This feature would make my life much easier.

Here is a blog post from Zoom with lots of helpful info on breakout rooms:

An important thing to note, in addition to Tawnya's resource, is that both you as the host and all of your students will need to be running the most recent Zoom update to make this happen. If you don't see the self-assign option when you click the 'Breakout Rooms' button, you need to get the update. Additionally, your students will need to update to give them the option. I recommend taking some time at the beginning of your session to help everyone through this process so that everyone is ready when you open the breakout rooms. If you need help figuring out how to update Zoom, this link should help:

I used team zoom links in a Google sheet to hop from group to group as a workaround but that doesn't allow them to call me in if they have a question. Thank you, this will make team collaborations less awkward. I tried updating but when I click on my picture it does not give me the option to update. In advanced meetings it tells me that I need another version. Is this something UNL needs to update since I sign in via SSO?

I appreciated how you described using Zoom break out rooms for recitation/lab. Here is a guide I created to help others with using collaborative tools in Zoom: