Using Breakout Rooms to Jazz Up Family Zooms

Now that we’re 56 years into the COVID social contraction, you may be finding yourself in need of a way to jazz up the weekly Family Zoom.

We’ve been at it ourselves since almost the first turn of the deadbolt, gathering Rukavina and affiliated from PEI, Quebec, Ontario and California together for everything from Zoom Pictionary to Zoom Trivia to Zoom Scattergories every Friday night. Oh how much we’ve learned about the promise, curse, and opportunities of family video-conferencing; it makes our early-aughts cacophonous Skype Christmas gatherings look primitive by compare.

But, if you’re anything like us, you’re looking for something new to inject life into the proceedings, and I’m here to recommend Breakout Rooms.

You might not even know that Breakout Rooms exist in Zoom because they’re not enabled by default: the person organizing the Zoom needs to enable them following these incantations.

Once enabled, the organizer can, at any time in the proceedings, manually or automatically, assign people to breakout rooms, which are like mini-Zooms-within-a-Zoom. And, the organizer can later, in turn, call everyone back to the Mother Zoom.

Here’s how we used this feature tonight on the Rukavina Zoom:

Oliver decided, for reasons too complex for typical people to possibly understand, that tonight’s overarching theme would involve veneration of Ethan the Dog, of December, and of Christmas. It was generously left to me to work out the details.

I came up with three small-group-friendly activities:

  1. Come up with as many names of people or animals starting with “E” as you can in 2 minutes. Ethan, Enzo, etc.
  2. A short 12-question Christmas Trivia quiz (“In which modern-day country was St. Nicholas born?”, for example).
  3. Using any means at your disposal, name as many events other than Christmas that took place, or take place, in December.

For every round I let Zoom come up with random breakout rooms; as Oliver and I were the overlords, there remained 5 people to breakout, so one room had 3 people and the other 2 people, and the rooms were different every time.

In addition to being simply a breakout from the everyday, this format allowed people short bursts of one-on-one interaction that the usual mass family chaos doesn’t. I think those who got paired up with young Montreal nephew, flying solo, particularly appreciated the chance.

I suspect we’ll try it again.

Do you have unique Family Zoom ideas to share?