This post originally appeared on the blog ELA Buffet by Darlene Anne.

The shrieking zombies on the other side of the door got louder. Sweat trickled down my neck, as we struggled to find a cure before it was too late. Then, with minutes to spare, my husband dug deep and discovered his inner Indiana Jones, enabling us to find the final piece of the puzzle!

We escaped the escape room!

As we left, we were already planning our next escape. And I became determined to find a way to create an escape room experience for my students.

ESCAPE ROOMS/BREAKOUTS Your kids are locked up forever, unless they can use critical thinking, problem-solving skill to set themselves free!

The Appeal of Escape Rooms

Walt Disney was the first person to cater to the fact that people love to be transported and immersed in a world of fantasy. Escape rooms allow us that and more. We step away from reality and become problem solvers, essential team members, critical thinkers, and yes, even Indian Jones: Zombie Chaser. It’s no wonder that the escape room craze is sweeping the world.

Escape Rooms in Education

If they’re created carefully, escape room challenges offer a fresh and exciting way to introduce or review concepts, while encouraging teamwork and problem-solving. Kids become so engrossed in the escape, that they don’t view their tasks as “work.” They’re engaged in completing the task. It’s awesome!

I searched around for some escapes to do with my students, and I came up with a list of requirements for what I began to call The Perfect Classroom Escape.

Escape Room Requirements

1. It has to be based on our curriculum. I really can’t justify one that is purely fun, as our time together is so limited.

ESCAPE ROOMS/BREAKOUTS What to look for to create an awesome escape experience for your class!
2. It can’t require expensive props. Many escapes and breakouts necessitate the purchase of locks and boxes with codes. I’m sure these can be a heck of a lot of fun, but I don’t want to spend money on locks. And I’ve heard stories about kids who change lock combinations, ruining the experience for others. So I need escapes that include everything I need, except basics, like paper or folders.

3. It needs a variety of final solutions. I teach 5 classes, which almost guarantees that by the time 8th period comes around the solution would be blown. I need more than one possible ending.

4. It has to be fairly quick and easy to put together. I don’t mind an initial set-up of 10-15 minutes, but I only have four minutes between classes to get ready for the next class’s escape. The set-up has to be lightning fast.

5. It has to require critical thinking AND teamwork; not just kids working side by side pretending to be a team.

6. It needs a compelling backstory and plot. The setting has to orient the players and the characters have to be engaging.

7. It needs the wow factor. What is the wow factor? It’s the immersion part. The Disneyesque part. It’s what engages the kids so they’re excited to be in this strange situation while feeling an urgency to beat the clock and reap the rewards.

What I Found

Nothing. Zilch. Zero. 
 
Oh, I did find one escape on a party site, and it took me about 5 minutes after purchase to realize it only met about one of my requirements.

What I Did About It

I did what every teacher does when we can’t find what we need.

I complained about it. A lot. To a friend.

Fortunately, I complained to the right friend, Pam Kranz of Desktop Learning Adventures. Pam is an expert puzzle maker, so her suggestion was on point. We would create our own escape room challenges.

Bingo!

I suspect that Pam immediately began to regret her decision when I gave her my daunting list of requirements (I could swear I once heard her mutter “someone” was high maintenance…). But we soldiered through and came up with a plan.

ESCAPE ROOMS/BREAKOUTS What to look for to create an awesome escape experience for your class!

Designing an Escape Challenge

Step 1: Come up with a plan. 

Use backward design and begin with the goal in mind. Do you want several possible resolutions? Do you want the possibility for all of the kids in the class to come together at the end to solve the escape together? (We’ve managed to do that, but it’s definitely not easy to create this way, so you might want to start with something simple.)

Step 2: Figure out how the kids can achieve the escape.

Are they working in groups? (My best tip for successful group work is here.) Are they solving a series of codes or riddles? Both? What is the winning formula? 

Step 3: Create that Disneyesque immersion experience to set the scene, lend atmosphere, and add urgency.

One of our escapes is a fractured fairytale. The characters are modern and sassy, and the storyline is funny and engaging, so the kids are hooked. This one is here
 
Another takes the players on a trip to visit relatives on a planet called Nonsensica. When a furry little pet named Sweetie chews up one of the only remaining maps back to Earth, the situation turns dire. (Don’t be fooled by the name Sweetie- this ain’t your grandma’s kitty.) Again, it is engaging and unique, which draws the kids in. This one can be found here.

Escape Room Challenges in school can be fun AND educational! If created properly, they can review or even introduce material.

Step 4: Incorporate real learning tasks.

First and foremost, make sure that the kids are applying, analyzing, and synthesizing. Avoid giving them too much information or assistance. There’s nothing wrong with making kids struggle a bit to solve problems.
 
As an ELA teacher, I will always require reading and writing tasks. I’m also not averse to including some tasks that require kids to work with numbers or combine a variety of skills. In the real world, kids will encounter problems requiring a multitude of skills to solve.

Step 5: Watch and enjoy! 

A successful escape will seamlessly weave challenges into the storyline so that kids won’t even realize they are learning. This is your chance to observe their interactions and enjoy seeing them work through tasks and challenges. 
 
Just like Indiana Jones. 

By the way, did I mention where that last clue was for the zombie escape?

It may or may not have been on the seat of the chair I was sitting on.

I’ll never tell.

You can get some cool ready-made Escape Rooms below. Enjoy!

Your kids are on a field trip run by YOU- the most awesome and creative teacher in the history of the world- when they walk a bit too far into the woods and get lost. Now they must work with their group to solve a series of FUN challenges based on comprehension and steeped with a variety of skills!

ESCAPE ROOMS/BREAKOUTS Your kids are trapped forever, unless they can use critical thinking, problem-solving skill to set themselves free!
 
ESCAPE ROOMS/BREAKOUTS Your kids are locked up forever, unless they can use critical thinking, problem-solving skill to set themselves free!
 
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Darlene Anne: Teachers Pay TeachersDarlene Anne has taught almost every grade level from 3rd through 12th, but her heart belongs in middle school, where she has taught ELA for more than a dozen years. She also adores animals (which some people say also explains why she loves middle school students). Darlene offers a glimpse into her classroom, teaching resources, and life at her blog, ELA Buffet. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, and her TpT store, Darlene Anne.