How To Use Breakout Rooms With Online Teaching - Breakout Magic! (Part 1)

pedagogy corner Feb 18, 2021

Music teachers have always been innovative. Now that we’ve been thrown online for much of the past year, we’ve been trying to figure out how to create opportunities for musical engagement with our students in virtual settings.

One opportunity that has emerged – and continues to evolve – is breakout rooms. These are possible in several conferencing platforms being used, for example Zoom and Google Meets. If you haven’t yet tried the breakout rooms feature, you can imagine it as though you are splitting into small groups in your class but then moving these groups into their own rooms to work though something together. Then when you’re ready, you can call them all back to the main room.

Random or Assigned? 

We are also able to choose whether we assign students to specific rooms, have them be randomly assigned, or even let students select which room to join. You can decide how you manage the rooms for whatever activity you’re running, including how many people end up in each one. If you’re looking for some help getting set up with these platforms, there are plenty of great video tutorials out there. 

You decide how you manage the rooms to suit whatever activity you’re running.

But how we can actually engage students with this feature? Or provide opportunities for them to work with other students? Or just offer some variety in your class? Here are a few ideas that we’ve found can work pretty well in your ukulele music classrooms, whether with adults or kids. Note that these ideas work best with small groups of two to four students.

Pair and Share

Create breakout rooms with just two people to a room. Assign an activity in which each person demonstrates for the other (e.g. a technique you’re working on or a specific section of a piece). Working in pairs gives students more chance to play and engage with each other; it also creates accountability. These "pair and share" moments can be short and punchy to break up the main class or rehearsal. Students can get through a lot in just a few minutes in these settings!


Since we’re all playing ukulele in these classrooms, there's no need to divide the group by instrument (e.g. saxophones in one room, trombones in another). However, you can create rooms for each part in a differentiated piece. Tell students how long the sectional will be and assign a short musical passage for them to focus on. You can even name the rooms so they know exactly where they’re headed.

Assign a leader in each section to help “run the room” and keep things moving along if you have students who feel confident doing this. You can pop around to each room to check in and offer assistance or hear what kinds of challenges are coming up.  

Aside: If you are working with adults and have the capability to work with a program like Jamulus for the audio feed, you can set up sectionals where all musicians can play together in (almost) real time, as well.

Mystery Melodies

Create a page of notated melodies of popular songs using two or four measures for each tune. Students split into small groups to play the melodies to guess the songs. They can then bring back their answers. This also works well as an activity in the main room if you share your screen to show a melody and have students type their guesses in the chat feed.

Escape Rooms

Digital escape rooms can also be fun, though they require a bit more planning to set up. Students must answer questions before they can move on to the next, unlocking codes with the correct answers until they finally “escape.”

One way to set this up is with Google Forms and the Response Validation feature. You can create quizzes and challenges on all kinds of things, like sight reading (again, needing to guess a melody, for example), musical terms, note-naming that spells out a secret message, etc. Here are a couple of links to some posts on how to set up an escape room in this way.

Stay tuned: next month we’ll share more fun and engaging breakout activities in Part 2 of this article!

Cynthia Kinnunen is a music educator from Guelph, Ontario and is part of Uketropolis, where we share and offer online ukulele lessons from beginners, to advanced players and teachers. 


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