The virtual coffee break

So you have a live group on Zoom, and it’s time for a break.

If you were in a venue, your students would visit the washrooms, queue for coffee, grab a pastry, wander outside… and they would encounter their peers and chat, randomly.

That builds a sense of community, of new friendships.

How can you enable this when the contact is on Zoom? How can you ensure that students talk to each other, get to know each other, make friends and build their immediate learning community?

Use your breakout rooms creatively.

When you set up Zoom breakout rooms, there is an optional feature to automatically assign participants into rooms.

Let’s say you have 11 participants (a prime numbers of students – the bane of the trainer when it comes to working in groups!) and you are declaring a 20 minute break.

You can create 3 breakout rooms and automatically assign participants, which produces three random groups of four people. Tell the participants what you are doing and encourage them to bring their coffee and Danish back to the breakout room. Of course, when break time is up they will all be brought back (on time) to the main training room.

In the early stages of the training, when the participants are essentially strangers, you can give them little coffee-time games to help those who struggle with finding a conversation topic. For example:

· What do you always have in your refrigerator?

· If you could only read one book for the next year – apart from any sacred text that you might take with you – what would it be?

· If you could be a wild animal for 24 hours, what would you be?

· How do you choose your next vacation?

Over time, vary the number of breakout rooms you create for each break, so they have interaction as two, three or four people. Beware of too many people in too short a time: five people for ten minutes means that on average everyone speaks for only two minutes. That might feel too rushed, so do the math before you create the breakout rooms.

Leave breakout rooms open over the lunch break – some people will want to chat over lunch, others not. That’s OK.

As the participants grow into a community with emerging relationships, shift your approach to allow people to select which breakout room they want to join for a break. This allows people to choose who they spend time with. But keep throwing in the occasional randomized break to ensure the overall community keeps developing.