Volume 1: Reimagining Remote Teaching, Issue 6 | GCTC

Volume 1: Reimagining Remote Teaching, Issue 6

by Dr. Kerri McKenna - August 19, 2020

To keep our classrooms from turning into repetitive moments of awkward silence, it is important we intentionally build in opportunities to work in small breakout groups. Small group work will break the monotony of talking and will give your students the chance to flex their thinking.

While sending students off to work in small groups seems easy, it really is not. Small groups – to keep them on point and meeting their objectives – are well scripted and organized. The below sections explore how you can use breakout groups to maximize student learning!


You cannot tell your students to “get into small groups and discuss topic x, y, z that we just reviewed. Your students will not know what they are supposed to “discuss”, so they will just end up talking about whatever they feel is important to talk about. Sadly, x, y, z, is usually NOT an important topic for them. Below are a few tips for preparing your small group activities!

  1. Provide written directions for your group activity. These directions should show up (at a minimum) in at least two places. The first is as an activity in you Blackboard shell. The second is in your daily PowerPoint so students can read the information while you verbally explain what they have been asked to do. Additionally, consider including a Small Group Document you can share with your students during class (on one drive – just share your link).
  2. Provide clear outcomes for your group work. Usually, this takes place by asking your students to complete a specific task in their group or answer a specific question(s).
  3. Require students to take notes during their group work. These notes can be done individually, by one person, or through a collaborate document you created before class began.
  4. Let students know, up front, how long they will have in their groups. Consider this estimation of time when planning how long your groups will need. For each question / task, anticipate 3 minutes. So, if you are asking the small group to do 4 tasks, they will need roughly 12 – 15 minutes to complete the assignment. However, I would verbally tell them they have 10 minutes to keep them on track, knowing you will give them extra time.
  5. Review the tasks in the whole group. Make sure someone other than the “note taker” of the group provides the explanation. And do not hesitate to pick who will be reporting out to the entire class by calling the person by name.


Most of the time, group work fails more because of poor directions than a poorly created activity. Here are a handful of tips to help with your directions.

  1. Keep your directions simple. Restate them multiple times. And let your students know how many actual steps they will need to complete.
  2. Tell your students to use the raise hand feature for assistance while they are in their groups. Tell them to have 1 person raise their hand if they group has a question, and everyone raise their hand when the group is done with their assignment.

Here is a sample script for explaining small group directions.

We are going to break out into small groups in a moment. But first, I want to explain what you are going to do. First, I want you to all to open the collaborative link I just put into the chat. Once you have opened it, please raise your hand.

Second, as soon as you get into your group, one person should share the collaborative document. 

Third, your small group will create a team name and answer the three questions presented in this document. Chose one row, enter your group name, and then answer question 1, question 2, and question 3 in the correct row.

If your group has a question, have one person in the group raise their hand. When you are all done with the assignment, everyone raises their hand. 

So, let us recap: You are going to be moved into small groups. Someone will share the collaborative document, and then you will come up with a team name and answer the three questions. You will have 10 minutes to complete this assignment.

Everyone should be prepared to present their answers to the class when we regroup.

Before I send you off – if you have any questions, raise one hand. When you are done, everyone raises their hand.

Are there any questions? Ok, and you are off in 3…2…1


Once students are sent into their small groups, you will want to make sure you are monitoring each room through the Attendee List. Here are a few recommendations while monitoring your group:

  1. Provide 1 – 2 minutes for your students to get settled and start their assignment before you make your first round to check progress.
  2. If a group raises one hand, make sure you enter the group as quickly as possible.
  3. Pay attention to the microphones. Typically, when students are actively engaged with the assignment, only one person is speaking at a time. When students are joking around, the microphones will all indicate sound (Microphone fills in).
  4. Cycle through the groups every 2 – 3 minutes. Monitor their progress, and take time checks “how much longer do you think? 1 – 2 minutes?”
  5. If students are mid-conversation, you can begin a chat with them. Simply ask how they are doing and if they need anything. They will usually reply. The best part of this feature is your ability to continue chatting with them throughout the remained of the class, even if you jump into another group. All you need to do is click on the chat bubble, and at the top of the screen hit the back arrow to see all possible chats!


Finally, it is important to see how your small groups are going every now and then. Take a temperature check of how class is going by asking students to provide course feedback. You can easily do this through a Microsoft Form. Simply ask your students to grade how class (A, B, C, D, F) is going. Additionally, make sure you also ask your students to give you 3 reasons for their grade. Check out this sample form to see how this could look! The best part, when you set the link to “anyone who has the link” all responses are anonymous.

Classroom Feedback 

Your students will tell you if your small groups are working and if they enjoy working with each other to learn. It is recommended you do this the same week we do Starfish Surveys – as it is just as important to receive formative feedback from our students as they do from us.