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  3. Microsoft Teams – Breakout Rooms

Microsoft Teams – Breakout Rooms

Breakout Rooms enable Meeting Organizers to separate participants of a meeting into several meetings. Organizers may randomly or manually assign participants, and can move freely between these Breakout Rooms to check-in on ongoing subgroup discussions.

This popular feature is effective for classes and teams of all sizes, enabling more rapid creation of small groups for dealing with specific tasks or having subgroup discussions.

Breakout Rooms Became Available on December 9th, 2020.

If you are not currently seeing Breakout Rooms, please ensure your device meets the requirements described below.

Requirements for Joining or Hosting Breakout Rooms

Both Organizer and Participant devices must meet these requirements

Meeting Organizers with devices that do not meet these requirements may not see the option to start a breakout room. Likewise, participants with devices that do not meet the requirements may have issues being assigned to breakout rooms.

For access to Breakout Rooms and some other Microsoft 365 and Teams features, please ensure your device meets the following requirements

  1. Ensure the new meeting experience is enabled
    1. Open Teams Settings.
    2. In the General tab, check the box next to the option marked Turn on new meeting experience.
  2. Updated and supported Operating System (OS)
    1. Apple only officially supports the three most recent versions of macOS. Please ensure you are running macOS 10.14 Mojave, 10.15 Catalina, or 11 Big Sur. Click here for details and upgrade information.
    2. Windows users should ensure they are running Windows 10 or Windows 8.1 and are fully updated.
    3. Android and iOS users can be placed into Breakout Rooms but cannot create or manage Breakout Rooms. Please ensure your device is fully updated.
  3. Updated Teams Desktop Client
    1. Client updates are periodically pushed to your device. You can manually check for updates by clicking your profile picture in the top right corner and clicking Check for updates.

Should you use Teams Channels rather than Teams Breakout Rooms for Small Groups?

Breakout Rooms can help organize on-the-fly group discussions by quickly placing each participant into a video call with an automatically generated subgroup. If your team or class doesn’t often break into small groups, it’s probably the right choice to use Breakout Rooms.

However, for teams that more regularly work in subgroups, or who will consistently collaborate or share documents or files with members of their subgroups, creating small group channels may be the right solution.

You can host a Breakout Room in a Channel Meeting

While most people use either Channel Meetings or Breakout rooms, some teams may choose to use these small group solutions in tandem. For example, if you are teaching a large class with a number of TAs, you may want to first send students to a Channel with their TA, have the TA start a meeting, then have the TA break that subset of students into even smaller breakout rooms that the TA pops in and out of.

Comparison Chart: Channel Meetings & Breakout Rooms
Channel Meetings for Small Groups Breakout Rooms
Channel Pros: Breakout Room Pros:
Can be used for stable groups across class sessions (e.g., the same students are in the same group for multiple classes).

Stores collaborative documents within the Channel.

You can assign TAs to Channels in advance.

Flexible: Includes options for randomly or manually assigning students into a group, on-the-fly. Manual assignment is not fast; consider only doing this when the whole group is 15 or smaller.

Easy for students to navigate between the breakout room and the main meeting room, if you select the option to allow students to go back and forth.

For one class session, groups remain stable (e.g., the same students are in the same group, but only for that one class session) until they are “recreated” (which will shuffle people into new rooms).

Channel Cons: Breakout Room Cons:
Requires advance set-up.

Students can get lost navigating between meetings.

Requires clear communication about which student is starting the meeting.

Requires good communication to bring students back into the main meeting; the meeting organizer can’t “end all Channel meetings and bring everyone back.”

Cannot be set-up in advance.

Only the meeting organizer (the person who schedules the meeting or starts an ad-hoc meeting) can create and manage the rooms.

Only the students who are in the meeting at the time the rooms are created are placed into a breakout room; if a student joins late, they are just waiting in the main class meeting for the meeting organizer to assign them to a breakout room.

If using random assignment, you need to manually re-assign TAs to breakout rooms; they won’t be automatically distributed across rooms.

Mobile devices are unreliably functional.

Breakout Rooms for Participants

Participant Capabilities

Participants are not able to manage any Breakout Room settings or options – only the Meeting Organizer can change these settings.

When joined to a Breakout Room, participants will automatically be granted the Presenter role in that Breakout Room. The Presenter role has some additional capabilities over the default Attendee role.

Typically, this includes the following:

  • Access to Meeting chat
    • When your Breakout Room is closed or you are unassigned, you will no longer be able to post in the room’s meeting chat. You can still view messages and content up until the point when you were removed or the room was closed.
  • The ability to start a recording.
  • The ability to view the participants list.
    • You will not be able to invite others to the Breakout Room
  • The ability to share content, such as your screen or a specific app.

External Participants cannot start a recording and are unable to view or edit meeting notes

Entering and Exiting a Breakout Room

When you are automatically moved into or out of a Breakout Room, you will see the messages below before being automatically moved to the breakout room.

Breakout Rooms Opened

Breakout Room Closed

Join Breakout Room prompt

Depending on how the Meeting Organizer set up the meeting, you may not be automatically moved to your Breakout Room, and instead will see the following.

If you accidentally close this window, or you click Later, the Meeting Organizer can manually ask you to rejoin the meeting, or you can join the Breakout Room if you see it in your list of chats.

Swap Between the Breakout Room and Main Meeting

Meeting organizer can configure their Breakout Rooms to enable participants to freely swap between the Breakout Room and main meeting.

If this option has been enabled and the Breakout Rooms have been opened, you will see the option to Join the Breakout room or Return to the main meeting.

Join room


Breakout Rooms for Meeting Organizers

Creating a Breakout Room

Requirements for Creating a Breakout Room:

  • Only the Meeting Organizer can create and manage Breakout Rooms.
    • Classroom-style Breakout Rooms should plan ahead if they intend to have TAs manage their Breakout Rooms
    • The Meeting Organizer must be there thru the meeting to manage the Breakout Rooms
  • The Meeting Organizer must be using the Teams Desktop Client

Your meeting must be started to create a Breakout Room

To proactively create Breakout Rooms, start your meeting early and follow the steps below.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Select how many rooms you need, choose whether to automatically or manually assign participants to rooms, then click Create Rooms. You can add more rooms and re-assign participants to rooms later.
  3. At this point, you have successfully created your Breakout Rooms and should see them displayed in the sidebar.

Configure your Breakout Rooms, then Open them and get started!

You can assign or re-assign participants to a Breakout Room, rename these rooms, add additional rooms, or delete unneeded rooms. Then, when your Breakout Rooms are configured as you’d like, Open them to get started.

Opening your Breakout Rooms

By default, participants will be moved to their assigned room when you Open those rooms.

To change this, select Room settings from the 3-dot menu in the top-right corner, and uncheck Automatically move people into opened rooms.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. You can open all rooms by clicking Start rooms. Alternatively, open a specific room by hovering your mouse over the room you wish to open, clicking the 3-dot menu and selecting Open room.

Closing your Breakout Rooms

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. You can close all rooms by clicking Close rooms. Alternatively, close a specific room by hovering your mouse over the room you wish to close, clicking the 3-dot menu and selecting Close room.

Managing Room Assignments

You can't re-assign people in an Open Breakout Room - close it first.

Participants who appear to be in a meeting cannot be re-assigned to a different Breakout Room until their current room is closed.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Expand the Assign participants section (or, if re-assigning a participant, expand their current Breakout Room), check the box(es) next to the participant(s) you wish to reassign, then click Assign and make your selection.

Renaming a Room

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Hover your mouse over the room you wish to rename, then click the 3-dot menu, and select Rename room.
  3. Enter the new name, then click Rename room.

Adding an Additional Room

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Click Add room. This will create a new room with a default name. See these instructions for renaming the new room.

Recreating Rooms

If you want to start over with your Break Out room, you can use the Recreate Rooms feature. This can be useful if there was an issue automatically assigning a large number of participants to groups.

Recreating Rooms will Delete All of your Existing Rooms

You will be given the option to recreate your Breakout Rooms, but participants manually assigned to rooms and custom room names will need to be redone.

It is not possible to undo room deletion.

  1. Select Recreate rooms from the 3-dot menu in the top-right corner.
  2. Confirm you want to delete all of your existing Breakout Rooms.
  3. Use the instructions above on Creating a Breakout Room.

Deleting a Room

Deleting a Breakout Room removes the selected room from the rooms list, but does not delete the chat and any associated recordings or chat created in that chatroom. Deleted Breakout Rooms cannot be returned to the rooms list.

Only Empty Rooms can be deleted.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Hover your mouse over the empty, to-be-deleted room, then click the 3-dot menu and select Delete room.
  3. Click Delete room to confirm deletion.

Advanced Options for Meeting Organizers

Making an Announcement

Announcements allow Meeting Organizers to broadcast a message to each Breakout Room. This has several uses, including posting a reminder of the discussion topic or informing participants that you will be closing the Breakout Rooms.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Click the 3-dot () menu next from the top right corner then select Make an announcement.
  3. Enter in your desired message, then click Send.

The announcement will be posted in the Meeting chat of each Breakout Room.

Joining Open Rooms

Meeting Organizers can join individual open Breakout Rooms on the fly as needed. It is not possible to join all meetings simultaneously, though you can access the individual Meeting Chats for each room.

Be aware that participants will not be notified that you have joined their room, so it may be helpful to post a chat when you join.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Hover your mouse over the room you wish to join, then click the 3-dot () menu and select Join room.
  3. To return to the main meeting, you can leave the Breakout Room and click Resume

Allow Participants to go between their Breakout Room and the Main Meeting

By default, participants will be moved to their assigned room when you Open those rooms.

While some meeting organizers may opt to mimic this behavior by simply Closing a Breakout Room, enabling your participants to freely move between their Breakout Room and the main meeting preserves their ongoing access to the meeting chats, files, and other content specific to that Breakout Room.

Normally, when a Breakout Room is closed, all participants are removed from the Breakout room, and will have read-only access to the content in that room available up until they were removed.

To enable participants to freely swap between their Breakout Room and the main meeting, select Room settings from the 3-dot menu in the top-right corner, and check Let people go back to the main meeting.

Recording in Breakout Rooms

Breakout Room recordings function similarly to normal meeting recordings, except that Breakout Room recordings are not automatically uploaded to Microsoft Stream, and must be manually downloaded. You can find these recordings in their respective meeting chats

A Breakout Room recording can be started by anyone assigned to that Breakout Room, as all participants are given the Presenter role when they are joined to a room.

The main meeting still follows normal restrictions – only the Meeting Organizer and Presenters may start a recording (participants have the normal Attendee role in the main meeting by default). You can read up on Microsoft Stream Basics in our dedicated guide.

It is not currently possible to start a recording in each Breakout Room with only a single click. Meeting Organizers must systematically join each room and start the recording. Alternatively, consider appointing a participant of each Breakout Room to be responsible for starting a recording. You could also send an Announcement reminding participants to record their discussion.

Manually Inviting to a Breakout Room

If a participant isn’t automatically added to their assigned Breakout Room, you can manually prompt them to join. This may be necessary in cases where the Meeting Organizer chose not to automatically move people into open rooms, or if the participant joined the main meeting after the meeting organizer had already opened rooms.

  1. Click the Breakout rooms button ( or ) from the top-right menu bar.
  2. Expand their assigned Breakout Room, then hover your mouse over the participant, then click the 3-dot () menu and select Ask to Join.
  3. The selected participant will receive a message asking them to join their assigned Breakout Room.

Updated on February 12, 2021

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