5 Steps to Plan a Class Escape Room

There is a reason that you are seeing class escape rooms popping up all over Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers - THEY. ARE. SO. MUCH. FUN! They are fun for the students, fun for the teacher, and fun for anyone you can get involved.

Only drawback? They can be a TON of work. That’s where I come in…

I recently planned and executed an escape room with my 10th grade English students as a study activity for their upcoming final exam for the first quarter. It took some seriously strategy, planning, and re-planning to get it to work, but using the basic skeleton I have figured out, you could easily create an escape room for any discipline. (Click HERE to see my Instagram Story Highlight where I talk through the whole thing the day students did it!)

I broke the whole process down into 5 steps:

1. Figure out which skills/standards you want students to practice (4-5 max)

Since the escape room I did was for a finals review, all I had to do was look to my exam to see what I needed students to practice. The first was something we had worked on most of the quarter - finding the claim/main idea of a text & supporting that claim with evidence from the text. There were also some vocabulary words I needed to make sure they knew, and I wanted them to practice paying attention to details. (This last skill isn’t necessarily standards-based, but is the single determining factor I’ve found in a student’s level of success in high-stakes testing… No matter their skill level, rushing through a text and trying to answer questions they don’t fully read is never going to end well!)

2. Find or create an activity or puzzle for each skill/standard

I ended up finding an article on Common Lit and having students read and answer text-dependent questions about the claim and evidence to support it, do a crossword puzzle with the vocab words, and answer a few different riddles that took serious critical thinking and observation skills.

3. Figure out how you want the entire escape room to end

What will your prize be? Candy? Homework coupons? 5% off their test? Once you figure out WHAT it will be, figure out HOW they will ultimately get it… I was a big fan of the tackle box filled with candy and locked with a 4-digit code padlock.

4. Link the puzzles together

This is where you get crafty! Find ways to make the puzzles and activities lead to one another… Maybe the answers to a set of questions contain a code that unlocks the next puzzle? Perhaps certain letters that are underlined in a reading or on the instructions lead to a part of your room/campus where they will find a tool they need to solve a riddle? What if students work in groups and each group finds various pieces to one big puzzle that they all have to complete in order to finish the whole thing? (This is what I did and it was AWESOME!)

The other thing that makes this part fun is to find accomplices on campus to be parts of the puzzles. While this makes it more of an escape “campus” than “room,” it was cool sending my students to the library to get another puzzle and to their counselor’s office to pick up a black light… Plus, your colleagues will love getting in on the fun!

5. Make your materials

Once you have it all mapped out, it is time to make your materials! This will include any puzzles and activities students will need, clues you will give them in hard copy, tools they might need in order to solve a puzzle, and instructions for the whole escape room.

My classes are big (40 students is the average class size), so this limits some of the types of puzzles I can create for a class escape room. I had my students work in groups of about 6 and created puzzles where each group would find 3 different pieces to a 24-piece puzzle (they found the pieces by solving puzzles and riddles, some of which were unique to each group).

Is this a bit more work than goes into the average lesson? Yes. Have I also had students and staff coming by ALL WEEK telling me that they heard about the awesome escape room I had my students complete? Yes to that, too. (Added perk - when I debriefed each of my classes after they completed the final puzzle and unlocked their candy prize, they said that they actually knew what they needed to study in order to be ready for the final! Woo!)

One other benefit to having done all of this work on the front end is that I can now use this exact escape room model for each of my classes any time - all I’d have to do is make sure that the activities and puzzles they complete are in accordance with what we are studying at that time…

If you know that you want to do an escape room with your students and also know that there is no Earthly way you’d have time to put it all together, I am currently working on a DIY Escape Room Template - I will update this post and alert the Instagram community when it is available on my TPT store! All you'll have to do is follow the directions and put it all together!

How do you plan to use an escape room in your class? Share in the comments below!

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