How to make intentional groups in Zoom, quickly

If you use Zoom with your students keep reading. 

If you use, or want to use breakout rooms with your students in Zoom, this post is for you. 

This works best if your students login to Zoom using their school accounts. It can also work if they created personal Zoom accounts. 

For safety, your best bet is requiring students to login to Zoom with their school accounts. The second best option is to require them to create Zoom accounts using a personal email and then you use a form to collect those email addresses. Either way you should know the email address of anyone you are expecting to join your class Zoom session. (See #1 in the screen shot.)

The Fun Part: Breakout Rooms

Zomming with 36 students is nice for direct instruction, but for actual conversation and collaboration, break out rooms are essential. 

In my classroom, I almost never group students randomly, but the prospect of having to click 36 different check boxes to assign students to groups intentionally was daunting and time consuming. I was worried my students would have to wait too long for me to do that. I thought I would have to settle for always using random breakout room groupings. Not ideal. 

Then I saw that Zoom would let me create my groups and upload them as a CSV file. (#2 in screenshot) CSV stands for comma separated values. It is the rawest form of spreadsheet data. But, lucky for us, Google Sheets makes it easy to create a CSV file with a quick download. 

I clicked "import from CSV" on Zoom and saw that there was a downloadable template. I used that template to create my Zoom breakout groups spreadsheet. You can have a copy of it below. 

Intentional Student Grouping:

The sheet I created has a roster page. Add your students' names and the email address that they use with Zoom. Again, this should be their district email account, but you can use personal accounts too. 

On the roster page, add any data you have about your students in a score column. (You can have lots of score columns.) I like to use things like recent reading scores, quiz scores, draft progress scores, any number that means something about student progress will work. (These are not grades. They are formative assessment scores that usually are just for my information.) 

Now, click the letter in the top of the column that holds the score you want to sort by, and sort A-Z or even Z-A. This sort will change the order of the students on your roster, either lowest to highest, or highest to lowest. 

Click the tab at the bottom of the sheet that matches the group size and configuration you want, 3-4 students, and homogeneous or heterogeneous. (I'm thinking of adding tabs for groups of 5 and 6, but I haven't done it yet.)

The sheet/tab with for the group size will just list room numbers and email addresses. Don't add names. (I don't know if adding names to this page of the sheet will cause a problem in Zoom or not, so for now I'm leaving them off.)

Go to the File menu at the top of the page and select Download>CSV file for the current sheet i.e. just the tab page you are looking at with the rooms and emails. (Very important, must be CSV not Excel.)

Go to your recurring meeting in Zoom in your Zoom web interface. Edit the meeting you want to use with these groups. Check the box for Breakout room preassign and click import from CSV. 

Drag or browse to the CSV file you just downloaded from your Google sheet. 

Boom! your students are pre-assigned to break out rooms based on your intentional instructional decisions. If you used homogeneous groups, you know right away which ones will need more support. If you chose heterogeneous groups, you already know that each group has a strong student to help lead the group work. 

Click HERE to get a copy of the Template for: Breakout Room Groups.

If you like this group creator for Zoom, you'll love my original Group Creator Spreadsheet that I used all the time in the classroom. 

If you are doing a lot of Zooming with students, you need the right gear. These are my recommendations for a headset, green screen, and lighting

Helps With Zoom Bombers if You Can't Use District Accounts: 

Students are posting the links to their classroom Zoom meetings, often with specific instructions about what time to join and even the first and last names of their classmates, so that trolls can impersonate real students in the class. 

If your Zoom meeting is set to require students to sign in with their school issued email accounts, then the trolls probably can't access the meeting at all and you should be fine. (Though, there will come a time when a student will make a really poor choice and share their password.)

If you are using personal Zoom accounts, you should still set user authentication to require those Zoom accounts, but that means anyone with a Zoom account can join your class, even if they are not your student. This is why you need to collect the email addresses students are using for Zoom and pre-assign your break out rooms. 

This part is hypothetical because my students have to use district accounts, so I haven't tried this, but I think it will work. If someone enters your meeting and behaves badly, even if they seem to have the name of a normal student, you can immediately launch your breakout rooms. All of your regular students will be sent to their breakout rooms, and the Zoom bomber will be left with you in the main room. What you do with them at that point is up to you, but they will likely leave quickly. 

If you forget some of the instructions in this post, there is a shortened version on the instructions tab of the spreadsheet. If this helps you, leave a comment below. Even anonymous thank you messages can make my day. 


  1. thanks for the information = very helpful

  2. This is THE MOST HELPFUL resource for Zoom I've found. Thank you for sharing!!!

  3. I keep getting an error for invalid format even though I followed the format to a T

    1. I had the same problem myself when I added a new page/tab to the sheet for a different room configuration. I forgot to copy over the very first row with the headers that say, Pre-assign Room Name and Email Address. To avoid that in the future I will "duplicate" a tab and change the rooms instead of adding with the plus sign. I hope that helps.

    2. Thank you!! Getting rid of zoom bombers quickly is a great tip!!

  4. Wwow!! Thank you soo much!! super helpful!!


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