How to Make an Escape Room Your Students will LOVE!
Hi, I’m Lachlan! I’m an escape games wizard with a passion for making learning FUN. I’ve been working with teachers to create immerse, deep learning experiences using classroom escape room games, and I’m excited to show you how to do the same!
Now, don’t you just cherish a smiling classroom?
Not only does it feel GREAT to see so many happy faces, but student engagement is also key to unlocking real learning. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that kids get bored at school far too quickly, and teachers just don’t have the time to make every lesson into a smash-cut multimedia sensory overload! Youtube and TikTok are hard acts to follow…
So here’s a question for you:
If you could bring your students’ favorite story, movie or game theme into your lesson, would you do it? What if, at the same time, you could guarantee classroom engagement and genuine learning?
Of course you would!
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be a hypothetical. Escape room games already combine critical thinking and active learning with fun gameplay, for a truly immersive experience. Can they work in the classroom? They already do, and they’ll work in yours too!
So read along, and I’ll walk you through a few simple steps to transform your lesson into an engaging escape room adventure. For the time-strapped among us (which yes, is most of us nowadays), you can download a FREE classroom escape room builder’s kit, on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.
So, What’s This Whole ‘Escape Room’ Thing About?
If you’ve somehow managed to miss all the buzz, an escape room is a cooperative, interactive puzzle game. The original concept actually had players locked in a room, and challenged them to escape by solving puzzles which would invariably lead to a key or 4-digit code that unlocked the door. Since then, the idea has evolved to be a bit more narrative. For today’s educational escape rooms, students might be trying to solve a murder mystery, decipher a cryptic time travel challenge, or even complete a treasure map to solve an ancient mystery, all before time runs out!
It’s this ticking clock that really gives the game it’s thrill. The consequences may be imaginary (unless you’re really not going to let them out of the classroom!), but the nerve-jangling excitement as time runs out is very, very real! Since we all love to play games and kids thrive on “beat the clock”-style competitions, the concept of a classroom escape room is built around completing tasks or challenges in a competitive environment. To achieve their objective (e.g- escape the zombies!), each student will race to solve a series of puzzles and challenges.
Trust me, it’ll feel less like a lesson, and more like Mission Impossible!
Ok, But How Will An Escape Room Game Help MY Kids Learn?
Lots of ways! Escape room games revolve around using problem-solving, logic, and critical thinking skills to solve puzzles. This means you can count on students using their brainpower to think of creative ways to complete a given task. But escape room games can also target specific skills as well. For example, kids may need to practice their map reading skills to find the buried treasure, read historical diaries to find hidden clues, or solve math problems to uncover a 4-digit code.
The end result – students will jump at the chance to work on core math skills, and who doesn’t love the sound of that?! With the opportunity to “gamify” learning in escape room challenges, teachers can put together an experience to match the skills and abilities of the students, as well as tailor the content to match their curriculum.
Don’t you hate it when one kid does all the work in a group and the others just watch and miss out on the action? Some of the best learning outcomes relate to students working together to complete a task successfully – and classroom escape rooms are not the kind of class activity that students will be able to ‘coast’ through. Group thinking is needed and encouraged with escape room games, and with the incorporation of engaging themes and created “worlds” that escape rooms bring to the experience, students will love playing the game without even realizing how much they’re learning.
Setting up your classroom might be part of the adventure. But with a few chosen props and a well-crafted escape room theme, this activity can be a fantastic addition to your classroom that kids will love AND that produces tangible academic and social-emotional results.
Building an Escape Room: A Step-by-Step Guide
So how hard is it to set up an engaging escape room? Nobody wants to spend a ton of time creating something that you can only use once – what a waste of time! So, if you follow our simple steps you can be ready to gamify your classroom in no time with a template for an escape room that you can use again and again (with a little tweaking of course!)
Let’s look at exactly how you can turn a student-favorite theme or concept into an escape room activity that teaches students how to work together, use critical thinking skills, and have fun at the same time!
And hey, you don’t need to start from scratch. You can save yourself some time by using this FREE escape room builder’s kit. It walks you through all of these steps, and contains some blank puzzle templates for you (or your students) to make your own game.
1. Create an Engaging Story or World for the Room
What are your kids reading, watching, or playing right now? That is where you start with your diy classroom escape room.
Look at what they’re loving right now and use that as a springboard for your game if you want to keep them engaged and excited about your classroom activities. Plus, the best part about using an already established story or world is that many of the characters and concepts are already designed for you. But the most important part is to clarify the “why” of the adventure your students are going to go on – creating the backstory of the game gives it purpose and will help build intrinsic motivation for kids to keep going when the puzzles are challenging, or the task is hard. Give them a goal to move towards: free the hero from the dungeon, find the magical jewel that will complete the princess’s crown, or figure a way out of a haunted mansion.
As you craft your backstory, also make sure to ask yourself these practical questions:
Who is Playing?
Decide if this is for whole class instruction time, selected kids based on specific criteria, or some other grouping. A basic tenet of lesson planning, knowing your grouping, will help you efficiently create appropriate activities.
How Long Will the Game Last?
Kids can sometimes figure out tasks quickly, but don’t underestimate how long a kids escape room game might take. Do decide if you want this to be a longer or shorter game so that you can plan on creating or adapting activities to fit your preferred time frame.
2. Create the Puzzles
This is where the magic happens! The idea behind these activities is to promote hands-on learning for students, so creative tasks that require out-of-the-box thinking are perfect choices. A variety of types of tasks also work best here to keep students engaged and excited about what is coming next. For example, when students complete a numbers task they could switch up their thinking processes with a more physical challenge or one that requires a visual element to solve next. The variety and unexpected nature of these tasks should be part of the fun that keeps interest high all the way through to the end of the game.
You can steal puzzle ideas from your favorite movies, puzzle games, or escape rooms. There’s no need to be original! If you’re still stuck, this escape room builder’s kit has some ideas to get you started.
Tasks Provide Clues
The purpose of each activity is two-fold: to provide a meaningful critical thinking activity and to lead students toward the next task they must complete. Each finished task should provide a key or clue leading kids to the next action, each building up to a greater concept that helps them get close to the final task or even a piece of the puzzle that “answers” the escape room mystery. Let your imagination run wild with the clues provided – kids love to connect the dots on brain-teasing activities!
For example – your pirate ship escape room could require kids to mathematically figure out how many steps it takes to “walk the plank” and then use that number to unlock the next clue. A “tomb raider” themed escape room might ask kids to solve a grouping of hieroglyphics to discover the lyrics to a popular song, in turn pointing students to what they are supposed to do next. Try to build in a creative flow between tasks that doesn’t involve a direct assignment of what the group should do next. Instead, once the task is completed, kids should feel like they’re ‘discovering’ what they need to do next. This way, every challenge becomes part of a bigger puzzle.
3. Theme the Room
Add in props, backgrounds, music – anything that will bring your theme to life! Grab decor from the dollar store, repurpose Halloween costumes, or even partner with another teacher to steal their funky classroom decorations. Adding a little bit of flair is the perfect way to immerse kids in your game experience. Remember, though, that the whole escape room challenge still relies on students using their imagination, so don’t worry about the details too much.
4. Play the Game
Build up the anticipation with mysterious announcements, and intriguing decorations… and then let them play. Be ready for some noise as groups talk, bargain, deliberate and even argue over how to solve your escape room challenge!
5. Follow up: How Did the Game Increase Learning?
That’s right, there’s still some debriefing to be done. When time is up, and groups have finished their tasks, it is time for post-discussions about how it all went down. Did they find tasks too simple or too challenging? What did they wish they had done differently? Ask students to answer questions about the process to not only give you feedback but also to help them participate in self-reflection about their own experience.
Look for activities afterwards that can tie learning back to the tasks they completed in the fun escape challenges since connecting a positive experience to new learning can give strugglers a leg up in learning something novel. Or, give kids the task of creating a new escape room challenge for other students to work through. They will love trying to stump their classmates with creative missions to complete!
Now It’s Your Turn
This is set to be the most popular tool in your teaching arsenal… that is, if you actually use it! You can get a headstart using this free builder’s kit, or design the game from scratch like a total legend! Escape room games are perfect for every level of learning. They can be modified for young learners as well as older classrooms, all the way through high school. With the excitement generated by competition with other groups, the unexpected challenges presented at every turn, and a unique twist on collective critical thinking, every classroom can benefit from a DIY escape room experience. Give it a shot, your students will LOVE it!
About the Author
Got more questions on how this all works? Then please, shoot a message to the escape wizards here (ask for ‘Lachlan’, and I’ll be happy to chat!).
Lachlan lives in the Citadel of Escape Magic, deep in the Stormy Mountains. He spends his days chasing after escape goblins and tinkering with new (and potentially dangerous…) puzzle ideas. He LOVES combining escape game elements with classroom lessons to create exciting new learning experiences – you can catch up on his latest masterpiece here.