Picture it. You’re locked in a room, armed only with clues and your wits. Sixty minutes are all you and your friends have to solve the murder/theft/disappearance of the neighborhood soccer mom/priceless antique/local paper man.
Escape rooms have become popular in the last few years. A chance for people to test their knowledge, critical thinking skills, and teamwork in a race against the clock.
As teachers, we strive to bring those same skills to our students. Why not take this same concept and use it to engage our students?
Ever thought of using escape rooms in the classroom? Keep reading to find out the what, why, and how.
What are escape rooms?
Simply put, escape rooms (sometimes called breakout boxes in the educational setting) present a problem whose solution can only be found by solving a series of riddles and puzzles.
Why use escape rooms in the classroom?
As we all know, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to engage students in the classroom. Teachers are battling against the instant gratification and constant stimulation our kids are so accustomed to. Gone are the days of simple worksheets and death by PowerPoint notes.
While they can’t solve all our problems, escape rooms can alleviate some of them.
The first reason to use escape rooms in the classroom is for review. This has been my personal preference. I’ve used both print and digital escape rooms to review short stories such as “The Most Dangerous Game” and novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front; I’ve also used them to review concepts in preparation for testing, such as how to read and analyze nonfiction or how to draw comparisons between texts on the same topic (“The Sniper” and Sojourner Truth’s journal to deal with civil wars and oppression).
On the other side of the spectrum, we have introducing material. Students can solve a variety of puzzles to gather introductory material about an author, a time period, a historical movement. Approaching the introductory material in this way builds excitement and anticipation about the unit. Definitely better than fill-in-the-blank notes copied from the same PowerPoint presentation you’ve been using for ages (guilty as charged)
Escape rooms get students excited about the material. Depending on the type of “room” you choose (see below), you can incorporate movement in your escape room. We all know that students get squirrely if they sit too long. Why not get them up and moving while learning at the same time?
One of the ever-prominent “21st century skills”, teachers are constantly searching for ways to improve collaboration between their students. Have students work together to solve the puzzles and collect the keys to “escape”. My students especially enjoyed it when I turned the escape rooms into a competition. Offer extra credit, a homework pass, candy, or even just bragging rights to the team that breaks all the locks and escapes first. It’s always fun to see whose competitive side comes out 🙂
Types of escape rooms
There are three different ways to present escape rooms. Choose the one that works best for you and your students.
Requiring low teacher prep and teacher interaction, this is the easiest way to present your escape room. Place students in small groups (4-5, depending on the size of your class). Give each group a copy of all the tasks and the answer sheet. The group “escapes” when they hand in a completed answer sheet with all of the correct codes/keys.
Give each group one task at a time. Groups must show you the correct key before receiving the next task. While this way does require more work on your part, it allows you to ensure that the students have the correct answers as they progress and allows for redirection.
Set up like a traditional escape room, this version allows students to access all tasks at the same time. Set up the tasks as stations throughout the room and start a timer. You can allow students to work at their own pace (meaning you may have several groups at the same station at the same time). You can also give students a time limit for each station and have them rotate as a group (more pressure for the students and less chaotic for you).
Types of games: Narrative vs. non-narrative
In addition to how you set up the room, you can choose how to write your escape room (providing that you create your own). The easiest of the two options is a non-narrative, which is basically a hyped-up stations activity with puzzles instead of typical assignments.
The second type is a narrative game. This requires more creativity and work on your part, but makes the escape room more enjoyable. This format is my go-to. Students play as Sanger Rainsford in “The Most Dangerous Game”; an animal living at Manor Farm in Animal Farm; a shipwrecked Italian sailor in The Tempest.
Once you’ve decided what type of escape room you want to use, you can decide on print or digital. Both have their pros and cons:
- More hands-on for kinesthetic learners
- Easier to involve movement (students move around the room solving puzzles at different “stations”)
- Doesn’t require technology
- Requires time to print and laminate (recommended for repeated use)
- Requires more set up/reset time – difficult if using in multiple classes
- Need more copies of all resources, especially if using the “simple” version
- Less set-up time
- Easier to incorporate digital elements such as videos
- No need to print/copy/laminate resources
- Need technology/devices for each student (or at least each group)
- Dependent on reliable internet
Escape room Ideas
One of the great things about escape rooms is that the types of possible tasks are limited only by your imagination. Some ideas include:
Codes and puzzles
- Find the error
Tasks and games
- Clue cards
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Crossword puzzles
Maps and charts
- Find map features
- Create routes
- Reassemble a map
- Primary and/or secondary sources and multiple-choice questions
- Create codes based on the information
- Sort cards based on textual information
Collect clues from other tasks to break the code. Substitute letters or symbols to unscramble and decode a key quote.
Categorize characters (such as Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet); Axis versus Allied powers during WWII; countries and continents. Whatever best fits your curriculum.