This article was written by Betsy Potash — an education blogger with a focus on the creative ELA classroom. Follow along for fresh teaching ideas on Instagram.
Intrigued by the pictures going around of students breaking into lock boxes and shining UV lights at classroom walls? Wondering what all the buzz about escape rooms is? Thinking it would be both costly and difficult to try it in your classroom?
Escape rooms have been around for ages, but recently they have jumped across the border from museums into schools. In an escape room, players work to solve clues and puzzles, moving from activity to activity in search of answers until they either escape the room or unlock the final box and the celebration begins.
It’s easy to see why this would engage students. Plug just about any classroom material into an exciting and mysterious journey around the classroom and students will be on their feet running, arguing, puzzling and caring.
But what of the expense? Won’t it cost a teacher’s entire budget to buy the materials for this crazy adventure?
Nope. It’s actually pretty easy to design a free escape room. Sub a lunchbox in for one lockbox, a duct-taped shoebox in for another. Hide a clue in the pages of a class set of novels instead of writing it with a blacklight pen. Hide another in your desk drawer instead of in a special zippered pouch.
The engagement doesn’t come from the money you spend, it comes from the creativity with which you design your students’ journey.
Which bring us to the time. Isn’t it going to take too long to invent and enact an escape room?
I can’t lie; it’s not the quickest activity in the world to put together. But it’s worth it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. The biggest challenge is to get into the mindset of the escape room. You need to lay out what information you want students to get and what tasks you want them to complete. Then you can work backwards, imagining how to move them around the room as they unlock clues.
Consider the following easy (and free) options:
- Embed a clue in a short reading. Bold letters in the reading that can be arranged to spell out a clue such as “s-e-a-r-c-h u-p”, then hide the next activity and clue in the location you’ve pointed them towards.
- Hide a clue under an activity. For example, if you’ve directed them to an iPad with a short video lesson on it, hide a question relating to the video under the iPad. Encourage them to keep thinking and searching after they watch the video until they stumble upon it.
- Hide a clue inside yourself! Let one of the clues lead them to you, and if they can tell you the password (the answer to some important question you want them to know), tell them the next clue.
- Create match-ups. If they can pair terms with examples, people with bios, poets with poems, etc., then they can discover two word clues linked up on the backs of the pairs.
Once you get going, it’s easy to brainstorm ways to embed clues into the activities you wanted to do anyway. Then suddenly completing these activities is an exciting race instead of the usual class routine.
Be sure to hide something fun at the end of the your escape room. When students break into the final box, let them discover candy, confetti, certificates of achievement or buttons. Snap their photos with their prizes and get them printed up for your classroom wall.
Escape rooms are just starting to take off. Be the first to introduce them at your school, then watch in delight as your students engage in a race to new knowledge.