Escape Rooms in the Classroom

Middle School Classroom

My grad school professor and I were recently talking about one of the best ways to engage students: games. As you know, many of our children are going home and spending hours with their eyes glued to their computers, and when you ask them what they did this weekend, “beating somebody at fortnite” is a common answer.

I fully respect and cherish a traditional education system, but I also feel it’s necessary to integrate (and maybe even embrace) elements of kids’ lives that they have fun doing. After all, don’t we wish that every kid was so engrossed in what they were learning in our classrooms that they actually enjoyed themselves? Imagine how much more they would learn!

We play many games in my classroom, but one of my year-long favorites happened yesterday: THE ESCAPE ROOM!

Escape rooms are super popular, and the main concept is that students work together (while sometimes competing against another team) to try to “escape” the room. In real life escape rooms, people would truly be opening locks, but I haven’t messed with these in my room as I hear students can accidentally reset the lock password and locks become unusable easily. In my classroom, the students need to come up with four codes that they will write on a piece of paper in order to “escape.” In this case, escaping meant an awesome gummy snack as a prize!

All in all, you need to think about different puzzles you can include in order to have student produce 3-5 digit codes. After writing a silly situation where one of the characters in our novel needed to escape jail, I also put the materials I made into a brown bag like pictured below.

Here are some of the elements I included in the brown paper bags for my escape room. You could easily take these ideas and modify them for your grade and content area.

  1. A letter written from someone’s point of view, which includes a number. This number may point to a page in the novel, textbook, or webquest that the students can then look for other hints! Tip: This is most fun if you fold the letter and place it inside of an envelope!
  2. A hands on “puzzle” with a secret twist. In my escape room, which was for Tuck Everlasting, I added a water bottle (the everlasting water ooh) with a new label. Under the label was simply written in pencil “why was 6 afraid of 7?” This was the easiest code of them all, but many of the groups never thought to rip off the label and check underneath!
  3. A deck of cards that includes secret digits. When the kids got the deck of cards, many of them counted them, tried to find some missing, etc. Eventually, they would notice that a few of the cards had other numbers taped on them. The idea is that they would realize (after finding a link to a magic card youtube video I put on our school communication website) that the cards needed to be ordered in a royal flush, and the digits on them were the correct answer.
  4. A secret riddle under a desk or chair. My riddle contained things like “clap three times, spin around.” My silly students actually did this! Later in the riddle was a hint to a page number they had to go to. There is nothing better than seeing them laughing while working together to solve these riddles.
  5. Be sure to include at least one {hefty} content element. It is fun to hide codes, have secret materials, and just plain fun riddles, but it’s important to remember to add in a hefty task or puzzle that deals straight with the content you are teaching. In my escape room, I had a magic squares puzzle where students had to answer 20 questions about the novel we were reading to then find the “magic” number that they all added up to.

Escape rooms could be used to discover new content in your subject area, but I’ve traditionally used them as a fun way to review or end a concept.

In order to make the escape room fair, I set a timer for 20 minutes so everyone has the same amount of time. In addition, I allow each group to ask me one yes or no question, which I also promise to follow up with a one-sentence clue. From time to time, I’ll also pass the group and cough *cough cough cough* and nod my head, shake my head, etc to give them a little validation, especially if I see that they are stuck.

My kids loved the escape room, and even though they got to work with half of the class, none of them fully escaped this year! I will be giving the prize to the team with the most correct codes. I won’t lie, planning and prepping this escape room took me hours, but it was well worth it for the engagement they experienced.

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