Breakout Rooms in Zoom

In a large Zoom meeting, the host can create smaller “breakout rooms” which are Zoom meetings nested inside the main meeting. Just go to your command bar at the bottom of the screen, and choose the breakout rooms icon – the square with the grid on it:

It will let you decide how many rooms to set up, and whether to randomly assign people or manually.

You can also choose other options by clicking on the options menu. “Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically” means that when you open the room, they’re put in. If you uncheck that box, then when you open the rooms, they’ll get an invitation to join. You can set the breakout rooms to close automatically after a certain time, but I am very cautious with using that, because Zoom can remember that setting for future meetings, and you can end up with the awkwardness of saying “you’ll be in the breakout room for 15 minutes” and three minutes later their breakout ends automatically.

breakout options

Random Breakouts

If you choose random, then Zoom will automatically break people up into rooms. We’ve used this for mixers, for quick small group activities, and so on. You decide how many people you want in a room, and make enough rooms for that. (So, if you had 24 people and you wanted 4 per group, you’d set up 6 rooms. If you wanted 8 per group, you’d set up 3 rooms.)

Manual Breakouts

Sometimes you want to control who goes into which breakout room. Choose “manual” assignment. Then, it will show you a list of rooms. Click on breakout room one and you’ll see a list of unassigned participants come up. Check off who to assign where. Then go on to room two, and so on until everyone is assigned. (Note, you can change the names of the breakout rooms if desired.) You can do this assigning at any point during the meeting. Then when you’re ready, you open the breakout rooms.

You can find more info about breakout rooms at:

And here’s info on how you can pre-assign people to breakout rooms.

Re-assigning participants

Sometimes you need to make some adjustments to the assignments. For example, if you did random assignments intended to scatter team members for a mixer, and you realize several members of one team all ended up in the same breakout. While assigning people (or after rooms have opened), you can go to the list of room assignments, click on a person and “move” them to another group, or “exchange” them – swap someone from group A with someone from group B so both groups stay the same size.

Joining a Breakout

When you open the breakout rooms, your participants get an invitation to join. If they don’t see the invitation pop up, then have them click on their breakout room icon in their command bar, and they’ll see the invite there. They accept it to join the breakout. When they’re done, they can go to the red button on the bottom right and either choose to leave the breakout room and return to the main meeting or leave the meeting completely.

If you want to join one, go to the breakout room controls, pick the one you want, and you can “join”. Any time you want to, you can leave the room to go back to the main room, or choose to join another room.


Anyone in a breakout room can click to “ask for help” and the host will get a notification and can join that room to offer assistance.

If the host wants to communicate to everyone in all the breakout rooms, they can go to the breakout room commands and choose to “broadcast” a message. If they want to chat to just individuals, they need to join the same breakout room as those individuals.

When the host is in the breakout room, they can tell if new people arrive at the meeting, because they’ll get a notification that there’s an “unassigned participant” and they can assign them to a breakout without ever leaving the breakout they’re in.

Or if you’ll have people moving in and out of the main room and you feel like you want to keep an eye on it, you can log into the meeting on two devices and leave one as the host of the main room, and then you can run off to breakout rooms on your other device, and if someone needs to reach you they can.

What do you use breakouts for?

So much! Of course you can use them for small group work in a meeting or a class.

I’ve used them for rehearsal and sound check – when you have people in a main meeting, you can pull a few individuals “backstage” into a breakout room to practice and confer.

You can use them to help save money… if you need to hold three meetings at a time, instead of paying for three hosts on a Zoom account, you can do one meeting with three breakout sessions.

You can use them for an icebreaker / mixer. We recently ran a family camp, where typically on the first night, everyone wanders around camp and runs into old friends everywhere they go and chat about their news from the past year. In our virtual camp, we did random breakout rooms of 7 people each – they talked for 15 minutes, then we closed those rooms and “recreated” new rooms for the next 15 minutes and so on.

We used them for social gatherings, where if enough people gathered at the “party” that it was getting hard for all to talk, we’d create rooms – one room was a jigsaw puzzle group, where they’d all work on their own devices on a puzzle on and then use zoom to talk as they pieced it together. One was a party game room where someone who owned a Jackbox party pack led them through a game of Drawful or Quiplash. Some went to the “kitchen” where they were each in their own kitchens preparing a meal or snack as they talked.

Or imagine a gathering where one group says “we want to talk about coronavirus” and another group says “oh, please no!!”, then you ask everyone who wants to be in the coronavirus room (not literally… ) to raise their hands – you go into the breakout room controls and assign them to a room, then open the rooms. If then a group want to go off and talk about Hamilton, have them raise their hands, and then assign them to an empty room – they’ll get their invitations right away and can go join it without disturbing room 1. Any time they want to they can return to the main room to see what else is up.

If anyone ever asks you “who’s in the breakout rooms”, you can look at the breakout room controls to find out. You could even take a screen shot of the breakout room list and share screen to show that. (The share screen won’t let you directly share the breakout room list.) Then assign them where they want to go.