5 Creative Ideas for using Break-Out Rooms

Teaching Online Using WizIQ

Break Out of conformity, Unleash your Creativity, The walls are gone,  Story-telling lives on!!

What can you do with more than one room to teach in and why would you need it?

If you think about collaborative learning or language games, you will soon get the bigger picture. I spent over a year experimenting with the Edupunk movement and we did a lot of creative collaborative work. However, there were times when I wished I could convert traditional offline language games into an online version. Many games that I wanted to use weren’t really feasible without the element of surprise. With only one ‘room’, I couldn’t really separate the students into teams. Now we can do that. A major element in many games or creative activities is the information gap concept. When students need to get information from someone else, the activity is more realistic and authentic.

I have decided to run some communicative experiments for Open Education week to get practical feedback on break-out room possibilities. In the meantime, I will list some very simple activities that don’t require any equipment, apart from other ‘rooms’.

1) Pair work, role play and group simulations

Last summer when I was commissioned to write lesson plans for groups in break-out rooms, a lot of the focus was on speaking practice for IELTS exams. As part of my brain-friendly exams mindset, I invented situations that would be realistic and fun, while giving students focused exam training at the same time. I have written many of these, so I’ll just give some general advice here. Whatever your topic is you can frame it around a real situation. For example, a topic concerning foreign exchange students coming to your university to stay. One student writes and asks for information about your college, your culture and your lifestyle.

  • Two groups in break-out rooms. One ‘leader’ in team A announces to his/her groups that they must prepare information for a visiting student. Provide a list of things to mention.
  • In team B, the ‘leader’ tells the others that they must make up a list of questions.
  • Next back in the main classroom, teacher tells students that a representative from team A ( host country/college) is setting up a skype call with a representative from the visiting exchange student. The skype call takes place in the main classroom with audio/video, while the others watch/listen.
  • Student B asks Student A lots of questions. As they ask and answer the rest of the class can comment in the chat box or note down mistakes they hear. If the speakers get stuck or need opinions they can consult with their team members.
  • Finally, teacher asks question to the whole class, such as what did they learn about the student, his/her culture etc. This could lead into a general discussion about culture, studying abroad, etc.
  • These roleplay scenarios can be adapted to suit any kind of speaking or writing task for exam situations. It’s up to the teacher to plan it.

2) Objects Tell Stories

  • Choose three objects that don’t seem to make an obvious set; example, a light bulb, a fish, and a sock.
  • Offline they can use real objects. Online we can use pictures of the objects. Tell the groups to use their objects as starting points for a story. They must give the story a title.
  • When the groups have found their stories, each person must work with someone from a different group ( break-out rooms for pairs, this time)
  • Students must challenge their partners to tell the story as one of the objects. Example “ I’m a light bulb, but I’m scared of heights. One day….”
    This is where imagination takes over.
  • Finally, back in the main classroom, pairs tell their stories to the whole class.
  • They can vote on the most eccentric, interesting or imaginative story.
  • I got this story idea from ‘Once upon a time’ by Mario Rinvolucri and J. Morgan. Interestingly, it was adapted from the work of Milton Erickson, the famous therapist and hypnotist who inspired a new field in psychology – neuro-linguistic programming. NLP is making its way into mainstream education – something else to write about in a future article.

3) Three Word Story

Here is an adaptation of an old game some teachers may recognize called ‘With your back to the class’. The game derives from the influence of Mario Rinvolucri and J. Morgan. With some online tweaking, we can add SkillZ & Edupunk to the mix.

  • Tell students that they are going to write collaborative stories in groups. Separate the class into two groups and send them to their respective break-out rooms.
  • Give the students in one break out room three words to work with. Example, ‘explosion, manager, roof’. Tell them to write a short story (one or two paragraphs) together using these words.
  • Give the students in the other break out room exactly the same task with the same words.
  • When everyone is finished bring them back to the main virtual classroom, where they will engage in speaking activities to retrieve some missing information.

Groups A and B must discover what happened in each other’s stories. To do this a representative from Team A , for example, will answer Yes/No questions from the other team with Thumbs up/down in the chat box.

The questions must also be grammatically correct. The representative from Team A should judge whether the grammar is correct or not. Incorrect sentences are not accepted. Teacher is the final judge in case of doubt.

The winning team discovers the ‘story’ soonest – with fewer questions and fewer mistakes.

Finally, teacher reads out the original version of the story.

The whole class can compare notes on the stories and vote for the best of the three.

This story is a creative writing endeavour, mixed with grammar drilling, speaking & information exchange.

4) Jigsaw Story


  • Divide breakout room based classes into teams and send them to break-out rooms.
  • This time students get some mixed up strips of paragraphs from a story. There are some missing paragraphs too.v
  • Tell students to sort out the paragraphs into the correct order, and imagine what could be in the missing paragraphs. Together they write their own versions of missing information to make up the whole story.
  • Back in class a representative of team A reads out their story to the class.
  • The listening team takes notes on what is different from their own story.
  • A representative from Team B takes the floor and describes the differences.
  • Example: In your story The manager helped his staff to escape the fire by climbing onto the roof, but in our story the roof fell in.

  • A representative from team a tries to relate the story of team B, based on differences described.
  • Team B finally reads out their own story and teachers copies/pastes both versions to the whiteboard for everyone to see.
  • This activity involves creative writing & thinking, as well as listening, speaking and some detective work/filling in information gaps.

5) Don’t say it

This is an adaptation of game that I play with my children. It’s a guessing game, where one person has a secret word, and they must give clues to help the others to find the words. There are certain keywords that they are not allowed to use in their description. .It’s a team game. If a student manages to get the word across to the other team he gets to keep the card. The team members of each team take turns until one team has five cards. They are the winners.

Teacher can choose vocabulary from the course. This would be great for exam students of high levels or even beginners. I will provide you with an example from my children’s game. Normally the information is on cards, but with the break-out rooms the separate teams can see their cards on the whiteboard and jot them onto notebooks for when they go back to the main classroom. In my image above the word they must describe is WIND. but they are not allowed to say the other keywords on the list.

There are so many ideas that it was a struggle to choose just five. Many ideas come from traditional ELT games, and other are inspired by the experience. For me, this is an exciting foray into creativity and deeper learning experiences.

Breakout Room Class on WizIQ