“Hurry, we have to solve this before the time runs out!”
“Quick, get to the research databases!”
“I’ve got to know where this book is right now!”
Hearing the urgency in students’ voices as they rushed to complete puzzles for my library orientation Escape Room was as exciting for me as the tasks were for them. Creating this series of missions hadn’t been easy, especially because I originally wanted to create ten sets of tasks in order to keep each group’s size to two to three students maximum.
This post provides several templates for planning a classroom Escape Room and suggests materials to use so you can benefit from my hard work—and trial and error.
The first step in planning this activity is to decide on your content standards and lesson goals. Select which content standards you want to address with the Escape Room classroom activity and identify the lesson goals for students. These goals will become the categories you create for the students’ specific tasks. Teams of students complete a specific task for each category.
For an English teacher, the content standards that the Escape Room activity might address could be learning the week’s vocabulary words. The specific lesson goals would be for students to learn definitions, list similes, examine word parts, identify context clues, and so on. These key ideas would become the categories you create for the students’ specific tasks.
In my case, the library content standards I wanted to address with the Escape Room activity were focused on accessing library materials. My specific lesson goals were for freshmen students to become familiar with our school databases, organization of the library, lookup stations, and additional library resources, as well as our public library’s digital access options.
Learn how to create an Escape Room for your students, and get free downloads to help you get started!
After you decide which content standards the classroom Escape Room activity will be addressing, choose seven key ideas (categories) to create specific tasks. The seven tasks will be labeled A–G.
Next, decide on how many students you want on each Escape Room team, the order in which tasks must be completed, and where each task will be located in the classroom.
As I thought about my classroom Escape Room plans, I knew I wanted to have ten teams, and I didn’t want all of the teams trying to complete the same task at once, or students would swarm to one area at the same time and create chaos. I decided, therefore, that each task would be a stand-alone task and would not need to be completed in any specific order. I labeled my tasks A–G and changed the order of the tasks for each group so that while one group might start on task A, another would start on task F, and so on.
I also tried to decide how the students would use each “solved” task in the larger picture of “escaping”. I decided that at the end of each task a number would be provided to the team in some way, and then they would add up all the numbers in the end to get the combination to a lock box. (Learn more about the lock box below).
For most of the Escape Room tasks, you want students to be able to complete them by themselves and by using as similar directions as possible.
For example, in my library orientation Escape Room, I wanted students to understand how to look up and locate nonfiction books, so I provided each group with the same directions, to find a nonfiction book, but gave each group a different book to locate on the library shelves. This became Task A. To “solve” the nonfiction task, the students had to locate the specific nonfiction book and then find the number taped inside the book.
In the same way, an English teacher might want all students to know the week’s vocabulary words, so would need to assign a different word to each team. To “solve” the vocabulary word task, the teacher could have a sheet of definitions at a table, and each definition would have a different number. Each group would need to write down only the number that corresponds with the correct definition to their word.
To keep everything straight in regard to the tasks and logistics, fill out an Escape Room Spreadsheet (download now) with all your Escape Room information. In column A, write the lesson goal (key idea) for each task. Then, in column B, write in the actual directions for each task.
In order to deliver these instructions to the students, copy and paste each team’s directions to an easy-to-read Escape Room Directions sheet for students (download now). Be sure to start each direction sheet with a different task, so that Team 2’s first task is Task B and then paste Team 2’s Task A’s directions at the bottom of the sheet. Also note, that any close-ended task with one right answer should be different for each team. So, Team 1 is asked for the word that means mercy, while Team 2 is asked for the word that means mean-spirited, and so on.
Below is an example of a completed Escape Room Directions sheet. When you download the Vocab Gal's Escape Room Activity you will get the Escape Room Directions templates!
Each task answer has a corresponding number. As teams move around the room solving the tasks listed on their Escape Room Direction sheet they will collect the numbers that will help them open their lock box. In order to assign a number to each task for each team, type in arbitrary numbers in each team column of the Escape Room Spreadsheet and use the spreadsheet sum function to total up the numbers to get a combination number for each team’s lock.
With answers and numbers designated for each task for each team, fill in the Answers for Task template (download now) for Tasks A–G. Each team answers and their corresponding number should be placed in random order on each Answers for Task sheet to ensure teams have to solve each task. Each Answers for Task sheet also has two fields where teachers need to provide false answers and numbers.
Place each Answers for Task sheet in the area where teams will go to solve that task. For example, the Answers for Task A sheet would be taped to the desk where teams will go to solve Task A.
Here is an example of what could be taped to a desk where students are solving Task A—what word is defined by this definition?
To keep the Escape Room teams focused and to provide for more complex tasks, you can build in two kinds of interactions. Feel free to ask older student helpers to run a puzzle, involve an administrator, or find a friend/colleague who wants to volunteer for a class period or two. By involving others, not only does it help teams stay on task, but they also can complete more open-ended question tasks.
For example, one of my tasks was for groups to explain which resources the public library has and how students can access those resources from the school library. Students explained their answer to the library assistant, who, when satisfied with their answer, gave them their group’s task number to add to their Escape Room Directions sheet.
In the same way, a teacher could ask students to explain a story’s theme and all the students must provide textual evidence to support that theme. If groups had to explain their answers to an older student helper, co-teacher or administrator in order to receive their answer, they could think more complexly and enjoy the “game” aspects at the same time.
The goal of an Escape Room is clearly to escape. However, chaining classroom doors shut is not a good idea (and is probably not permitted at your school). So, instead substitute with two toolboxes with a hasp of locks on each of them. Each team has to unlock their lock and, if the entire class manages to unlock their locks, the toolboxes could be opened to find small stickers, candy, homework tickets, buttons, and/or bookmarks inside as prizes!
I had gotten the idea of using toolboxes from a colleague in a neighboring school district and was able to find a few by sending out a group email. I then purchased two hasps at $5 each and ten numbered Master Lock 175D 2" Resettable Brass Combination Padlocks. The Master locks are the greatest expense, as each one is about $10, so the total cost to buy ten locks online in bulk is about $175. However, I would ask your tech department if they have extra locks. You could also ask your department chair for funds, or see if people have extra luggage locks you could borrow/keep. Luggage locks can be less durable and it can be harder to change the combination, but you still get the same effect.
Another, completely free option, is to have each group turn in their final number to you or another gatekeeper. If all groups turn in an accurate final number, then the box of prizes can be pulled out from wherever it has been hidden and the celebration can ensue.
To prepare students for the Escape Room activity, write a countdown on the board, or put up signs. You can ask for an entrance ticket to class or post notices on your class social media page. Another option is to have the locked boxes on display for students to see.
Most importantly, when entering the room, have some “Mission Impossible” or other escape room-style music playing. I easily found a YouTube station that played music and had a countdown timer attached for extra heightened excitement.
Break students into groups and pass out their team’s Escape Room Directions sheet. Remind students they have to work quietly so as to ensure that they get the right answers and escape in time. Show them the lock boxes, explain the rules, and set them loose!
Along with detailed instructions, Vocab Gal’s Escape Room Activity includes three templates:
The first template is the Escape Room Spreadsheet. This excel file will help keep everything straight in regard to the task questions, answers, lock box codes, etc.
The next template is the Escape Room Directions sheet. For convenience, the template has been copied and labeled with each team’s number.
Finally, there is the Answers for Task template. For convenience, the template has been copied and labeled for tasks A–G.
I hope that these classroom Escape Room instructions, templates and material suggestions have made you want to try setting up your own Escape Room. When I first started hearing about the concept of Escape Rooms, or breakout rooms, I thought that it could never work for me because I dislike having large groups of students working on a task (I feel it’s too easy for some students to sit back and let others do the work), and because I couldn’t think of a way to incorporate Language Arts topics into an Escape Room.
However, after a great deal of thought and trial and error, the results were really fun, and I know that the students were able to complete tasks actively versus passively. This, research shows, is crucial for long-term memory to form, and the more tasks a student completes, the more they deeply learn information.
I hope you feel the same way and are no longer intimidated to try a classroom Escape Room activity of your own. I wish you luck and definitely want to know how it turns out!