Breakout rooms:  A tool available to the host of a Zoom meeting that allows for the assignment of students into different groups.  The groups can then "breakout" into separate "rooms" and have sessions of their own.  The host can join any of the sessions and switch between any of the sessions at any time.  The sessions can be vacated, and students can come back to the main meeting. The main meeting is akin to a plenary session and the breakout rooms are the different sub-sessions. 

This tool/feature is turned on and available by default on all Whitman Zoom accounts, if you do not see the Breakout Rooms tool in the meeting controls toolbar, nor the option to create pre-assigned breakout rooms when scheduling in the web portal, check your individual account settings. Please make sure that the Zoom client you and your attendees are using is the latest version.  To check for Zoom updates, see this article.

There are two methods of creating breakout rooms (both are documented in this article):

  1. During a meeting:  This the easiest and recommended way of creating breakout rooms. Room assignments can be adjusted at any time.
  2. Before a meeting:  Pre-assigning students into different groups can be done when scheduling a meeting (or editing an already scheduled meeting) NOTE: this pre-assignment method is not available via Zoom in Canvas - it has to be done via the Whitman web portal:

There are some options to help you manage breakout rooms.  These are accessed via the Options sub menu on the bottom of the Breakout Rooms list window (This window will appear during the creation and assignment of your breakout rooms)   

  • Allow participants to choose room (Zoom ver 5.30 and later). Selecting this option gives participants the freedom to chose which room to join and eliminates the need to pre-assign rooms.
  • Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically.  If selected, this will force (without asking) everyone that is assigned to a breakout room into that room once the Open All Rooms button is clicked.  If not selected, the participants will be presented with a pop-up invitation to join their assigned breakout room when the Open All Rooms button is clicked.
  • Allow participants to return to the main session at any time.  When selected, participants can leave the breakout room and join the main meeting room at anytime.  This is a good option if your groups will be breaking in and out of their breakout rooms several times during a session.  If left unselected then participants cannot leave the breakout rooms until the rooms are closed by you or by an expiration counter (see below). NOTE: Once the breakout rooms are closed, recreating the same rooms with the same assignments is not quick. If you plan on reusing the same group assignments during one meeting. it is recommended that you select this box. and then cue participants to come in and out of the breakout rooms as needed (via Broadcast a message to all or by voice) To maintain the same group assignments during the meeting, do not click on Close All Rooms until the end of your class session.  If you plan on using the same group/room assignments during several class sessions, see Use the import from CSV method of assigning breakout rooms below.
  • Breakout rooms close automatically after XX minutes. If selected, this will automatically close the breakout rooms after the number of minutes you enter in the box
    • Notify me when time is up.  If you need a reminder of when the breakout rooms are closing, select this box.
  • Countdown after closing breakout room. When selected, this will provide a countdown to the participants in a breakout room, allowing them to prepare to join the main meeting.  The choice of how long the countdown duration is either: 10, 15, 30, 60, or 120 seconds.

A Note about Recording and Breakout rooms.  If you plan on recording your meeting, please be aware that only the main/plenary session will be recorded.  The breakout rooms are not recorded.  If you would like to record the breakout rooms, you will have to rely on a participant in each breakout room to record their session and share the recording with you later.

Creating Breakout Rooms

Method 1: During a meeting (recommended)

The simplest way to create breakout rooms is to use the Breakout Rooms tool once a meeting has started.  This has the advantage of creating and assigning breakout rooms based on the people that are actually in attendance, regardless of how they accessed the meeting (i.e. they could have entered with a non-Whitman email address).  Here is how to do it:

  1. During a meeting, click on the Breakout Rooms tool (image2020-9-1_11-3-25.png) located in the meeting controls toolbar.
  2. A pop up window will show how many participants are in attendance and allow for the creation of breakout rooms.
  3. Select the number of rooms to create via the dropdown menu or directly enter the number of rooms in the box (up to 50).
  4. Choose to assign the rooms either Automatically, Manually, or Let participants choose which room to enter (each option is explained below) Then click on the Create Rooms. 
    1. Automatically - Zoom assigns attendees to break out rooms. Note - Once the room assignments are created, you can still edit the assignments, before you open up the rooms by clicking on a participants name and moving them to a different room.
    2. Manually - The number of rooms you specified will be listed numerically.  Click on the Assign link next to each room, then click on the names of the participants you want to assign to that room.  Repeat for each of the remaining rooms.  If you want to swap a participant with another, simply select their names and move them to the room you want.
    3. Let participants choose room -  The attendees can choose which room they will break out to.  When using this option, it may help to rename or title each breakout room with a descriptive name, instead of the the default "Room x." To change the name of a room, hover the mouse/cursor over the room in the list of rooms and click on Rename and type in the name of the room. Also note that this method of assigning rooms allows for an uneven distribution of attendees in rooms. - You may end up with everyone in one breakout room!
  5. When ready to open up the breakout rooms, click on the Open All Rooms button.  Participants will leave the main meeting for their breakout rooms, and the host remains in the main meeting room (but you can join any of the rooms at any time, see Launching and Managing Breakout rooms below).

Method 2: Before a meeting, Pre-planned Breakout rooms 

Pre-planning breakout rooms can be a time saver, if done properly, - and the pre-assignments can be saved as a CSV file to use in later class sessions. Pre-planning break out rooms is accomplished during the scheduling phase of a meeting via the Zoom scheduling interface, and/or by uploading a spreadsheet (saved in CSV format only) of your room assignments.  Both methods rely on assigning participants by the email address you think they will use when joining a meeting.  Since some participants may join a Zoom meeting by clicking on a zoom invitation link without ever having signed into their Whitman zoom account, selecting Require authentication to join, with the sub-option of Sign in with Whitman SSO ( forces all attendees to sign-in with their Whitman e-mail address before they join.  This then allows Zoom to assign all the participants who join to the breakout room you assigned by using the same Whitman e-mail address you used in planning the breakout rooms.  Note, selecting Sign in with Whitman SSO ( also prevents any participants that do not have a email address from joining a class session.  If you need an outside member to join the class and you are using breakout rooms, then then choose the Sign in with any Zoom account sub-option. 

Using the built-in Zoom interface to Pre-assign breakout rooms:

    1. sign into
    2. Click on the Schedule a Meeting button on the far right of the screen
    3. Fill out and select all the parameters of your meeting, before you save - make sure you do the following:
    4. Select Require Authentication to Join
      1. In the dropdown menu, select Sign in with Whitman SSO (
    5. Under Meeting Options, select Breakout Room pre-assign
    6. Click on  + Create Rooms
    7. Click on the (next to Rooms) to create a room, click on again to create another room, and so on and so forth.   Each room will be labeled as Breakout Room"X" (x being the number of the room)
    8. Click on the room you want to assign students to (it will be highlighted in blue), and add the student's email address under the Breakout Room"X"
    9. Repeat for every room, until there are no students left to assign
    10. Click on Save

Using the Import from CSV File method of assigning breakout rooms.

    1. sign in to
    2. Click on the Schedule a Meeting button on the right of the screen.
    3. Fill out and select all the parameters of your meeting, and before you save - make sure you do the following:
      1. Under Meeting Options, select Breakout Rooms pre-assign
      2. Click on Import from CSV
      3. At the top of the "Import Rooms and Participants from CSV file" window click on download and open this file.
        1. Open the downloaded file with Excel or other spreadsheet program
          1. This file will consist of two columns: Pre-assign Room Name and Email Address  - DO NOT REMOVE THE COLUMN NAMES (HEADERS) OF THIS FILE
        2. Fill each column of this table with room numbers and email addresses.  The room number column will have several repeated entries, but the email address column should list each email address only once. A sample is below:

        Pre-assign Room NameEmail Address
    4. Save this file as a CSV (Comma delimited) file.  Microsoft Excel may warn you about losing some features of your workbook if you save it as a CSV file, that is ok - continue to save it as a CSV.   
      Also, note the location where you saved it (you may need to access it during a meeting)

    5. In the "Import Rooms and Participants from CSV file" pop up window, either "Drag and Drop your CSV file" into the large gray box, or click on browse, and select the location of the file you just saved, then click open
    6. Zoom will save your pre-assignments and breakout rooms.  You can verify this by looking under the option for Breakout Room pre-assign option, the number of rooms created will be listed with the ability to click on Edit to change your pre-assignments

Launching and Managing Breakout rooms:

Whether your breakout room assignments were preplanned (as in Method 2 above) or they have yet to be assigned (as in Method 1 above), the way you launch Breakout rooms is the same - through the Breakout Rooms tool in the meeting control toolbar during a meeting.

Clicking on the Breakout Rooms icon during a meeting will open a window that shows a list of the breakout rooms as you planned (if you did so), with the room assignments. You can edit the room assignments before opening the rooms by clicking on particular names and moving them to a different room.  When you are ready to have the groups break away, simply click on the Open all Breakout Rooms button.  The window title will change to Breakout Room - In progress. If you did not pre-plan breakout rooms, you will follow the steps under Method 1 above.

Once all the participants leave for their own breakout rooms, the host will be left alone in the main room.  Clicking on the Breakout rooms tool in the meeting control toolbar will bring up a list of all the active breakout rooms. Next to each breakout room there will be a blue join link, which will allow you to join any particular breakout room.  Also in the Breakout Rooms - In Progress window, there will be a Broadcast a message to all button and a Close All Rooms button. Note that the way to communicate with everyone when they are in their respective breakout rooms is to use the Broadcast a message to all button and NOT the Chat button.

The Breakout Rooms - In Progress window will look like this (note the Broadcast a message to all and Join links):

Some potential failures with breakout rooms:

  • If you edit your meeting at all, even if it does not involve the breakout rooms feature, be sure to check that the breakout rooms are still pre-assigned after you save your meeting edits.  Sometimes, adding an alternative host, or changing a meeting parameter causes Zoom to drop the pre-assigned breakout rooms.  This is a known fault that Zoom is working on.  This is part of the reason creating breakout rooms after a meeting starts is recommended.   Having the CSV file of your pre-assigned breakout rooms is handy, in case you have to quickly reload it before the session starts. Alternatively, reloading your preassigned breakout rooms could be the last thing you do after any meeting edits.
  • If you select the Require Authentication to Join box with the drop-down option set to  Sign in with Whitman SSO (whitman.zoom.uswhen scheduling your meeting, only those participants who have authenticated through a Whitman authentication service will be able to join.  Outside guests will be excluded.
  • If participants show up late, they will be directed to a waiting room, and will not be automatically placed in the breakout rooms. Check your participant list to see if someone is in the waiting room.  Once a new participant is admitted, you can place them in a breakout room from the Breakout Room list window.
  • Once the breakout rooms are open, you cannot use the Chat feature to send a message to everyone in a meeting.  Rather, use the Broadcast a message to all button instead. The button is located on the bottom of the Breakout Rooms - In Progress window.
  • It is easiest to share a document with attendees via the Chat feature before you open the breakout rooms.  
  • Each participant in a breakout room has the ability to press an Ask for Help button in their toolbar. When pressed this will send the host a message, giving the name of the person who asked for help, the breakout room they are in, and will present to the host the option to press a Join Breakout Room button.