If you’re not familiar with the “Escape Room” phenomenon found across the U.S., you’ve definitely missed out!

The premise is relatively simple: players must complete a series of tasks in order to gain passwords, retrieve clues, or gather other information needed to “escape the room”–digitally, physically, or both. The idea is extremely innovative: it works with any content area, particular skill or objective you’re teaching, and students are needless to say, extremely into it. After all, their “lives” are on the line!

As you’re reading this, it’s a completely reasonable to be thinking: why would I go through the trouble of creating an escape room instead of “straight-up content”? One word: engagement. If a “typical” class means that your students are dozing off, working on other material, on their phones, etc., you need to ask yourself, are they actually learning?

Consider this super-scientific graph:

Ultimately, when it’s done right, an escape room doesn’t compromise the standards, skills, or content that you’re trying to teach–it makes them more attractive, and thus, more memorable.

Remember–if the whole process sounds intimidating, don’t worry. You don’t have to create a comprehensive, super-elaborate escape room on your first go. Start with a 2 or 3-step room, and build from there. Take it poco-a-poco.

Here’s a really basic example, one from when I first introduced the idea of an escape room to my high school students.

Because this was a new experience for nearly all of them, you’ll notice a lot of scaffolding involved, especially in the hyperlinked escape flowchart. Also, there’s actually only a couple of puzzles for students to complete, one through Google Forms (which was used as a differentiation checkpoint) and the other through Classtime (as an informal assessment and escape verifier). I didn’t want the number of puzzles or the skills needed to solve them to  overwhelm them, and ultimately, to get in the way of students’ mastering the day’s objectives.

All escape rooms look different, but ultimately, they tend to boil down to a few different types. One of my co-workers, Quinten Starks (also from Beech Grove) and I developed this chart to make it a bit more clear. I’ll break it down in stages.

The easiest form of an escape rooms is a station set-up because groups, clues, and students operate independently. It’s strength is its flexibility. The escape room can be as short as one puzzle or last an entire class or more–it’s really that simple!

A bit more of a complicated style a linear design:

The progressive nature of a linear design is the source of it’s difficulty. My own escape room that I shared with you earlier is a good example of this style.

The most complicated kind of rooms are ones that involve escapee’s interdependence. Yes, you can always adjust the difficulty of any escape room with more rigorous content or skills, but adding in cooperation across multiple puzzles creates new challenges–such as cooperation, critical thinking, and situational awareness–that students must master as well.

The bottom line is this: your escape room doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Pay careful attention to the demands (content, skills, etc.) that your escape room makes of your students, and design it with them in mind. And don’t forget–start small, and build from there.

If you’re looking for more info on making your own escape rooms, I recommend checking out Sarah Wilking’s resource collection that she shared with me a few years ago. It’s got everything here from the basics for beginners to additional tools for veterans.

If you’re looking to introduce escape rooms to your staff or fellow teachers, I’ve actually made an escape room that teaches you how to make escape rooms.  Just check out this blog post here to learn more and download all of the resources for free.

With all that said–happy escaping!

Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

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