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Breaking Out With Breakout Groups

Rainked is back, by unpopular demand! Well, it never left of course. Over the last four months, I have been working my first full semester, as a high school English teacher. While the semester has been filled with challenges, it has been one of the most rewarding and powerful experiences of my entire life. I have taught students about important English Language Arts Standards, and have told them hundreds of the most hilarious jokes. For some peculiar reason, I was the only one that laughed at them.

Although the world is filled with uncertainty, it is important that students are given a quality education where they are fully supported and cared about. One of my biggest breakouts (please laugh) was using breakout groups to help form connections with my students and to create collaboration within the virtual classroom. Here is what happened when I started using them regularly. Don't worry I won't include a list; that would be clickbait.

During the first week of school, I immediately realized that if distance learning was going to be successful, I was going to have to form connections with my students. In the words of the late Rita Pearson, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." I decided to try to use a Zoom option called breakout groups to try to get students to talk to each other. For those unfamiliar with breakout groups, I can divide students and place them into their own individual zoom groups. Instead of having one group of 35 students, I could have seven groups of five. After teaching students the day's lesson, I could place them into small groups and have more personable and enriching conversations.

Initially, students were placed in random groups for the first month of the school year. Random groups allowed students to become more comfortable talking with their classmates, but I quickly realized that wasn't going to cut it. When I would enter a breakout group, only a few students would be talking, or in some cases, no students would be talking to each other at all. I decided to try something new. I had students pick their own breakout groups. They could decide who they wanted to group with, and what their group name should be. I had groups, including the "Power Rangers 2.0", the "Carrots", and my personal favorite, the "Dimmsdale Dimmadomes."

By giving students choices of who to group with, the virtual classroom came to life (not personification). Students began to have conversations with each other. I would enter a breakout group and instead of being greeted with silence, I would be greeted with laughs. I began to have casual conversations with my students about sports, pets, music, and TikTok, aka fake Vine. They even started laughing at my jokes (This claim about being funny is disputed). Casual conversations began to translate to academic conversations, and breakout-group discussions began to branch out to whole-group discussions.

Being a teenager in high school is tough. Being in high school during a pandemic is even more difficult. In a distance learning environment, it is more important than ever to be empathetic and to let students know that we care about their academic and socioemotional needs. Little by little, we can make the world a better place. I will not stop until one student finds my jokes funny.

Please click the link below to find a collection of my best jokes.

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