Using structured breakout groups to engage students with course content

Miriam Burgos, Professor of Clinical Marketing at USC’s Marshall School of Business, uses breakout groups to provide students with opportunities to engage with course content to support deep learning.

Professor Burgos was a 2023 recipient of the Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching

Watch this 3-minute video and scroll down for the full interview, plus tips for implementing this in your course!

Read more about this approach in Miriam’s own words:

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Interested in using breakout group activities in your course?

Here are some tips for implementation:

  1. Clearly align breakout group activities with learning objectives. Breakout group activities should directly connect to the learning goals of your course. Tailor discussions and deliverables to reinforce key concepts or skills.
  2. Communicate with students on what to expect and how to prepare. You might consider sharing information such as: questions to be discussed, length of time and size of groups, deliverables, and any individual expectations
  3. Consider in advance how the activity will be assessed. Will the activity or deliverables be graded? Will grades be for groups or individuals? How and when will you provide feedback to individuals, groups, or to the whole class?
  4. Reflect on the best approach for forming groups for your course and teaching approach. Will groups be static or dynamic? Will they be assigned by the instructor, student-selected, or random? Will individual group members be asked to adopt specific roles in order to complete the task?
  5. Create a plan for troubleshooting. If you plan to use technology or physical materials for the task, consider testing in advance, providing links for technical support, or planning for alternative ways to complete the activity.

More resources for breakout group discussion activities:

What does the research say?

Radebe, N., & Mushayikwa, E. (2023). Bloom’s Taxonomy and Classroom Talk: Exploring the Relationship Between the Nature of Small Group Discussion Tasks and the Quality of Learners’ Talk. African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 27(1), 14–24.

Read, D., Barnes, S. M., Hughes, O., Ivanova, I., Sessions, A., & Wilson, P. J. (2022). Supporting Student Collaboration in Online Breakout Rooms through Interactive Group Activities. New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences (Online), 17(1).

Schenker, T. (2021). The effects of group set-up on participation and learning in discussion forums. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 34(5–6), 685–706. 

Wilkins, S., Butt, M. M., Hazzam, J., & Marder, B. (2023). Collaborative learning in online breakout rooms: the effects of learner attributes on purposeful interpersonal interaction and perceived learning. International Journal of Educational Management, 37(2), 465–482.


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