When I first saw an idea to create a classroom escape room, I knew I had to make it happen. It looked like so much fun—my students would love it.
Now, I know the idea of creating your own escape room can be a bit intimidating. It looks like a great lesson to get students excited, but it also looks like a lot of work. So if you’re a teacher who like the idea but doesn’t want to add a lot of work, I’m here to help.
I’ve pulled this off many times with my high school students, and I promise that planning an awesome escape room lesson doesn’t have to send you running for the nearest exit. Here are my step-by-step instructions on how to make it work in your classroom:
Step 1: Begin with the end in mind.
What do you want your students to learn from this experience? Is it going to be a team-building activity that doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to the curriculum? Do you want your class to review the end of a unit or is it a launch at the beginning? The first step is deciding what information you want your students to show you they know. For the purposes of a 40-60 minute class period, you should probably choose no more than a few main concepts that will be reviewed in different puzzles/tasks.
Step 2: Add the puzzles, riddles, and locks.
The great thing about escape rooms is that the puzzles the students need to solve in order to “win” or “escape” don’t have to be overly complicated. Close readings with questions afterward whose answers have certain letters highlighted will work just fine. You can also try math problems whose numbers are a lock combination. Or maybe you want to try a riddle about an event in social studies. These can all be used as tasks in an escape room lesson.
It’s often good to make one or two tasks fairly simple. It builds confidence and makes the students more eager to continue. Too many challenging tasks can leave our less confident students ready to quit. The key is a balance between an easy, moderate, and challenging tasks.
As you finalize what your tasks are going to look like, your escape room will start to come into focus.
Step 3: If you build it, they will come.
This step is probably the most fun (aside from watching the students during escape room day) as well as the most time-consuming. Once you’ve decide what concepts you’ll be asking the students to review and what types of puzzles you will use, you can begin to organize the activity.
It’s often helpful to role play (mentally) your activity before you run through it with a class. Pretend you’re the students. What do you want them to do from the moment they enter the room until the moment they’ve “escaped” or “won”? Is anything too easy? Unclear? Make sure they are challenged, but not overly frustrated. Then, build out each step by making sure that it makes sense logically to arrive at the correct answer.
Step 4: Do a dress rehearsal in your mind.
You have to run through the activity in your mind to make sure you’re not missing anything important. Since I’m a high school English teacher, here’s an example of what an escape room lesson might look like in an ELA room.
First of all, class begins. I tell my students that they are now trapped in the room and cannot leave until they have successfully completed all tasks needed to review for tomorrow’s test on literary elements. They will have to work as a group to do so.
Next, I have my stations all ready to go. At each one, there is a task card and all materials needed for this task. I hand each group of students a piece of paper with four squares on it. Once the group thinks they have solved the task correctly, they write the answer in a square and raise their hands. I will check the answer, and if they are correct, I stamp their box.
I like to mix up my activities and tasks. For instance, I might have one task where students have to match quotes next to the character who said them in a multiple choice format. The answers of the multiple choices are not A, B, C…but letters that spell a word. Then, students write that word in a box on their stamp card.
Another task I like to use is to have students place events in correct order on a plot diagram at a station with a lockbox. There are numbers on the back of the event cards. If they’ve done it correctly, these numbers will unlock the box. Inside is a word they must share with me to get a stamp.
After they have four stamped boxes, they’ve successfully “escaped”. I might even decide that the first team who gets all four boxes will win a small prize.
Step 5: Create a buzz!
Get your students pumped for this new experience. Make signs that say, “The Escape Room is coming…Are you ready?” and hang them around the room. Put the box with the lock on it in a prominent location in the room and refuse to answer any questions about it, saying they’ll find out soon enough. Students eat this stuff up! You’ll reap the benefits from this front-loading of excitement when your class can’t wait to get started.
Step 6: Let’s get ready to ESCAPE!
The day has arrived! Today the students will be experiencing your escape room. Feel free to go a little overboard with your theme or decorations (suspenseful music, signs with ominous “Do you have what it takes?” messages, etc.).
Most of all, take a breath because you’re in for a fast-paced, crazy fun day. Your students are going to love this and you’re going to love seeing them excited about learning, working collaboratively, persevering through challenges, and walking out of your room talking about how today was awesome.
Step 7: Success! Take a breath and time to reflect.
Once the escape room activity has ended, make sure that both you and your students make the most of the experience while it’s fresh in your minds. When the students arrive to class the next day, give them time to complete a written reflection of their experiences. What did they feel they did well? How did this experience enhance their learning? Not only can this be the grade for the activity, it will also give you valuable information for your reflection.
As you reflect, consider both what went well and what didn’t work. Taking time for this integral step in the planning process will make your future escape rooms that much better.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning an escape room today!