Have you ever been to an escape room? You are locked in a room with a group of people, given a series of puzzles to discover and solve in a specific time frame. These immersive experiences have been used for fun and team building for more than a decade — and now the classroom escape room is hot.
Students love classroom escape rooms because they are fun, immersive experiences. That doesn’t mean you’d use a classroom escape room only to engage students and get them working together. A classroom escape room helps foster critical thinking skills, teamwork, and problem solving. Plus, you use the classroom escape room format to dive into any subject.
5 simple classroom escape room ideas
If you think it’s a cool idea but sounds like a lot of work to put together, hang on. We’ve got escape room ideas for your classroom to keep it simple.
1. Theme and story
An escape room needs a theme and a story. You’ve been sent back in time and half an hour to unlock the time machine to get home. You need to solve the codes to escape before a volcano erupts or a storm arrives. You can find pirate treasure … if you just crack the code. The options are endless. Have fun with it. You don’t need a huge back story, just enough to set the scene.
Time is also a key element in an escape room. Decide how long teams of students will have to finish the quest to “escape.” Set an amount of time that fits with your classroom schedule, and think about how long each puzzle or task should take. Make it possible for teams to finish but challenging enough to make it interesting.
You can use a timer on your phone or computer to track the time. If you are able to project it so students see the countdown, even better. Otherwise, give frequent updates to help students manage their time and build suspense.
The key element to a classroom escape room is the puzzles. Students need to solve the puzzles or complete the tasks. Puzzles could include working out a code, answering a question correctly, and finding information that leads to another clue. When you are coming up with classroom escape room ideas, start with what you have that relates to the academic subject you are covering. For example, you could create a noun escape room to help students learn about and practice identifying and using nouns. In that case, pull together all your resources related to nouns. You could use:
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Cootie catchers with certain flaps highlighted
- Headlines, posters, or short reading passages
- Matching games
- Images, charts, and maps
Remember, the point is not to trick students but to get them thinking, working together, and learning something.
Simple modifications — underlining certain words or letters, questions that have students explore other materials in the area, and a puzzle that, once completed, gives a message or clue—can serve as puzzles. You don’t need to create new and complex puzzles to make a challenging classroom escape room.
You don’t need fancy boxes, locks, or other props to make your classroom escape room work. If you have a pirate hat, an old map, and a stuffed parrot, it would help set the scene for a pirate themed escape room. A headlamp, backpack, and compass could be props for an exploration themed classroom escape room, but none of that is necessary. As for boxes and locks, they can be fun … if you have things handy to use.
Want students to be able to “unlock” something without keys and locks? Try a Google form. Students enter a final code. If the answer is incorrect, they get a response to keep trying. If their answer is correct, they can get a wrap message.
5. Wrap up
Whether students complete the quest in time or not, they should get some kind of response. This could be something that pops up on the screen if you use a Google form. It could be on paper in a physical box or in a drawer or other location the final clue sends them to. Congratulate them or say, “Maybe next time,” and wrap up the story you kicked off the escape room with.
You can also hold short debriefs with each group to talk about what worked well and where they struggled. This could relate to particular puzzles, particular content, or how they worked as a group. Students can also share any takeaways from the experience.
Classroom escape rooms can be a lot of fun as well as an excellent learning tool. You can keep it simple, use resources you already have, or even get a done-for-you classroom escape room.
Have you tried a classroom escape room? How did it go?