Can mini-essays by fictional frustrated personal trainers help students work harder in Zoom breakout rooms?

Well, can they? I have no idea but let’s start with a fictional mini-essay from a fictional personal trainer.

I love my job. I really do. It gives me a chance to put my hard-earned knowledge and experience to use. I also enjoy helping people and I think I can be a positive influence. Of course it’s also great that I can often see the results of my work. Sometimes it’s quite dramatic and the changes come quickly. My work as a personal trainer is generally rewarding but it does sometimes leave me wanting more.

My biggest frustration is when my clients waste their time and money. Specifically, it’s frustrating and disheartening when I give clients exercises to do and things to work on between our sessions and they don’t do them. Believe me, I know when they haven’t done the work.

Some trainers told me that I shouldn’t care about this because I get paid no matter what the clients do or don’t do outside of class.. I can understand this but I still find it saddening. I mean, they paid the money and took the time to book a lesson. Then, when it’s time to work on their own they suddenly lose motivation.

Honestly I feel bad for my clients but also for myself because I truly want my clients to succeed! I wish they would seize the day and make the most of their time and make progress towards their own stated goals. I think everyone knows that the benefits from just meeting with me a few times a week are marginal compared with actually doing the assigned exercises and making sustained progress. I think clients know that I choose the exercises based on their fitness, challenges, progress and overall goals. I spent a lot of time learning about the human body and this field and . 

It seems clear they want to improve but I cannot understand their thinking when it comes to not putting in the work between sessions. These are not children. They are adults who made a choice to change their lifestyle but can’t seem to follow through. The notion that they’d devote the time and money for classes but not put in the work outside of classes is odd to me. I am not sure I can understand where my clients are coming from.

Perhaps I should be, or should try to be, more empathetic. This workout stuff comes pretty easily to me (unlike, say, algebra). Maybe my perspective is too narrow? Maybe they don’t actually care about progress as much as I assume they do? I know it’s ultimately up to them. 

In any case, it’s quite frustrating and disheartening. I don’t really have any ideas or strategies for dealing with this situation, which is also frustrating. I am at my wit’s end. 

My idea was to use this text as a sort of a way into the discussing issue of students not being so active in breakout rooms.

I might give students a gist question about the trainer’s issues before some specific questions (and maybe even some language work. .I’d be sure to ask students to think about solutions to her problem. I’d also ask what they might say to the clients, if anything.

I’d collate the suggestions for the trainer and comments for clients. Then comes the big reveal. Some of these ideas could be related to our current situation. Which advice for the trainer applies to the teacher? Which comments for the clients apply to this group of students. Discussions of these final questions would likely and ironically occur in breakout rooms.


  • Not that it really matters but this has not been a huge problem for me as yet.
  • If you find any language that seems off in the “mini-essay” it’s either because of my own bad writing or I tried to shoehorn in some terms that students in a particular class might be studying soon.
  • I thought including such terms could make it seem a bit more like a language learning activity and not a drawn-out way of expressing frustration.
  • I realize some might say, “Hey man don’t worry if students are not active in breakout rooms during a pandemic” and I get it.
  • If anyone tries this or a variation, I’d love to know how it goes!


  • Do think the text is a bit too preachy? Too blamey? Too whingy?
  • Do you think students would know the reason for introducing the text before that reason is revealed?
  • Would you consider doing something like this if you were faced with students who are inactive in breakout rooms?
  • How might you modify or expand on the sequence?
  • Can mini-essays by fictional frustrated personal trainers help students work harder in Zoom breakout rooms?


  1. MP

    Hi. I don’t see any harm in trying to promoted discussion like this (and the sample is fine), but I think a different issue is at work with inactive breakout room students. I think it comes down to getting them to feel interested and like they have something worthwhile to contribute. The first part is more about the teacher sparking an interest. The second part though… That can be tough because some students are very hesitant to put themselves out there with the risk of ridicule hanging over them. Maybe spend some time with an activity that lets them choose a subject they feel comfortable taking a lead on. Just an idea. Hope it helps.

    • mikecorea

      Thank you for the thoughtful comments.
      (For some reason WordPress didn’t allow me to approve them till now). I think you make a great point about students’ interest and comfort levels. I think time/energy spent on this is very important, especially online. Thank you again!

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