Live Classes: 6 ways to use breakout rooms to teach English online

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Using breakout rooms to teach English

Back in 2018, Pearson partnered with the BBC to begin Live Classes, a global project set up to promote culture and language learning for teenage students. Learners from around the world have the unique opportunity to come together – allowing them to learn as a group and interact within an international classroom.

We are pleased to announce that Pearson and BBC Live Classes has been announced a finalist of a prestigious ELTons award issued by the British Council. The project has been recognised in the Innovation in Learner Resources category.

We decided to reach out to our international community of teachers to find out how they’ve been coping during the current pandemic and how the experience of Live Classes helped them to transition to teaching online.

Here are some of their top teaching tips!

Top tips from our community

1. Invite guest speakers from different schools and countries 

Alena from Russia

Alena, a teacher from Russia, recommends using your online platform to welcome guest speakers from other countries. This could be to do online interviews, to tell stories, or host workshops.

Inviting guest speakers is a great way to keep your students engaged. It allows them to ask questions in real-time about a given topic, exposes students to another culture and is useful for authentic listening practice. 

Before having a guest speaker join your class, we recommend letting students know what behaviour is expected of them during the lesson. It’s also a great idea to prepare them a little on the theme or ask them to plan out a few questions for the speaker.   

2. Dedicate half the class to breakout rooms 

Burhan from Turkey

Breakout rooms have become extremely popular over the past few months, especially for teaching online. Essentially, they are virtual meeting rooms that let you split their class into various sessions; you can then switch between the breakout rooms at any time to attend to different student groups. 

Turkey-based teacher Burhan recommends dedicating half of class time to breakout rooms. After all, they’re a great way to diversify class assignments, ensure learning is student-centred, and give students invaluable speaking time. With breakout rooms, teachers also have the opportunity to monitor student progress from a distance, and apply individual teaching methods to each group.

3. Have students discuss a problem in breakout rooms

Melinda from Hungary

Melinda from Hungary recommends breakout rooms too. She uses them to have her students discuss a problem and agree on a solution. This is a great way to not only develop students’ problem solving skills, but also their collaboration and teamwork abilities. 

As your students are figuring out the solution, it’s important for teachers to be on hand to help with any challenges. We recommend you finish off the class with a feedback session, where each group shares their problem-solving approach or reflects on what they’ve learned. 

4. Use breakout rooms for situational dialogues and discussion

Joanna from Poland

Poland-based teacher Joanna says breakout rooms are good for situational dialogues and discussion. It’s a great way to encourage students to consolidate their knowledge and apply what they’ve learnt to real-life situations. 

You may want to ask your students to roleplay a job interview situation, act out a shop scenario – or simply discuss a topic in the news. But, it’s a good idea to keep the group sizes small; this ensures quiet students get a chance to voice their opinions, too. And once the students are done talking, you can switch up students in the rooms to keep the conversation fresh. 

5. Keep and establish relationships with breakout rooms 

Irene from Italy 

For many teachers, like Irene in Italy, breakout rooms have been important for maintaining relationships in lockdown. After all, they provide the much needed face-to-face interaction for students and teachers. 

Breakout room sessions can be especially effective for ice breaker activities, warmers and simply allowing students to get to know each other better. Use them for facilitating peer-to-peer participation, peer-to-peer tutoring, or building healthy competition between groups.

6. Learn to work with your students remotely

Stasa and Elena from Russia

Breakout rooms showed Stasa and Elena, two teachers in Russia, how to work with students remotely. For many teachers, online teaching seems to allow for only two options – speak to the whole class at once or address students individually. Students who want to talk to you directly must send you a private message or risk interrupting the class. But, breakout rooms allow you to switch between rooms and handle any queries on more a small-group level.

Other tools for teaching engaging classes online

use breakout rooms

We also received some other great tips from our Live Classes community featuring some interesting tools to help you engage students online. 

Develop students’ critical thinking and speaking with Flipgrid

Flipgrid is designed to promote social learning. It lets your students record and share short videos – so they can reflect on, discuss and showcase what they are learning. 

For the TikTok generation, Flipgrid is both instinctive and fun. We recommend teachers try out Flipgrid at the end of a project, incorporate it into a CLIL lesson, or simply use it to record students speaking in English. They’ll be able to watch their videos back, identify their own errors, and respond to each other from their own homes.

Explore the world with virtual field trips

It’s always a great idea to have students practise their English in a number of target language settings – such as restaurants, markets, museums and historic sites.

Google Expeditions is a fun tool for VR trips; and with it, individual students can even lead a tour of the destination. It’s also a great speaking or writing prompt. For example, you may want to ask your students to write a diary entry or review of the site you’ve visited, and then share with the rest of the group.

Do group feedback with Padlet 

Think of Padlet like an online post-it board that you can share with teachers and students.  And because you can post in Padlet anonymously, it’s a great tool for posting student feedback. Check out this link to read about some other creative things you can do with Padlet, too.

Discover more tools for engaging learners online. 

And the winner is…

Thank you to our Live Classes community for all your advice! The top tip is unanimous – use breakout rooms for communicative activities and maintaining relationships. 

For more help with online teaching, don’t forget to check out our distance teaching resource page.  

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