Breakout Magic! (Part 2) - How To Use Breakout Rooms

pedagogy corner Mar 17, 2021


Last month we got the conversation started around using breakout rooms in our virtual classroom platforms. This month, we have a few more ideas that you can test out with your students. Let's jump right in!

This post was written by Cynthia Kinnunen, a music educator in Guelph, Ontario and part of Uketropolis, online ukulele lessons for all.

Team or Partner Challenges

Don't just send your students off to breakout rooms with an activity, make it a team challenge! Have students work together in partners or small groups, ideally with no more than four to maximize interaction and participation. Assign the groups an activity they can work on with each other, perhaps learning a small part together for the first time, or deciphering something new. The result should be something that they can report back on when they return from the breakout session. Here are a few ideas to get you started:


1. Intervalactic fun

Assign each group an interval and ask them to come up with as many songs as they can think of that feature that interval, then bring back their answers to the class. You could use existing music you’ve been learning to have them search out the intervals in the scores, or let them choose songs where they can figure out intervals by ear. Find more interval ideas here. 

Breakout rooms with no more than four participants work best as they allow maximum engagement and participation. 


2. Chord friendships

This can be done individually or in live in-person classes, as well, but it can also be a great partner or small team activity in breakouts. A set of chords is provided to students and they must figure out the order of the chords to allow only one finger to move between each chord change. Or for more advanced students, provide a set of major chords and have them create the relative minor chords by only changing either one or two fingers. They should also identify the names of the notes that they've changed.


3. Let's write a song!

Group composition is a great activity for students to flex their creative muscles together. Provide some structure: the key and time signatures, the parameters (e.g. using only a restricted number of notes or chords, in a certain style, starting or ending on a particular note/chord, with a specific lyrical theme, etc.), and ask each group to create a part of the song, whether music or lyrics or both. One group might come up with an intro and/or outro, another group the chorus, and other groups each take a verse. Bring it all back together to see how the song sounds!

Note: songwriting requires more extensive time in the breakouts and instructors should visit each group to provide guidance during the exercise. You may choose to run this over several days to allow students to develop their ideas and bring them back to their breakout groups.

Related Reading: Best Music Notation Software

4. Working in harmony 

Each group gets the same melody line but with no rules around which chords to choose (unless you would like to provide some guidelines). They decide on chords to accompany the melody. Record the melody line yourself to then play through the computer or give them access to an online recording to work with. When they come back to demonstrate their interpretation of the harmonization to the class, they can strum along with the recorded melody on their computer or through a browser. You could even have them re-harmonize an existing song you’ve been working on. Ukulele in the Classroom is a great resource for songs to learn and re-harmonize. And it's free!

We know there are a lot of creative ideas for online teaching coming from innovative and engaged music teachers around the world. Let us know what’s been working for you in your breakout rooms!

written by Cynthia Kinnunen

Stay in the Uke Loop!

Subscribe to the Uketropolis Gazette. Free arrangements, tips, interviews and more delivered to your inbox.


Stay in the Uke Loop!

Get monthly teaching tips, learning strategies and interesting interviews delivered right to your inbox.