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How to Create an Escape Room for Teaching

Ready to become the 'cool teacher'? This handy guide will walk you through crafting  your first escape room for the classroom.
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Shirley watson puzzle master
Escape rooms combine critical thinking, communication skills, and FUN. In short - your most engaging lesson ever!

Let's Make Learning FUN!

Escape rooms are live-action video games. Imagine your students stepping through the screen into Minecraft (then imagine when you were a kid, stepping through the screen into Donkey Kong!). They'll come alive as they work quickly against the clock, trying to find solutions to puzzles requiring out-of-the-box thinking. Your escape room classroom will become their favorite part of the class!

Escape room games are the pinnacle of learning through play. We believe it so much, we've written a whole article about it here! While your charges work to solve the puzzles and escape on time, they won't realize they're actually doing schoolwork! You can use an escape room game to reinforce material learned and to teach valuable life skills.

Escape rooms require critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork to escape a dreadful fate. Teaching these skills helps students in life as much as learning math and writing. That's nice, you say, but how can it help my students? Where do I find such magical classroom escape room ideas?

Fear not! We'll show you how to make an escape room game that will teach and entertain simultaneously!

Step 1. Choose A Theme For Your Escape Room Classroom

Tripwire game comes with the Lost Mummy
Everything in your educational escape room game flows from the theme. It's the cornerstone of your project. Therefore, it needs to grip the imagination. The theme's design will pull the kids into the story, allowing them to live in the space you created. Your theme should make Ferris Bueller want to go to school.

The escape room works best if you build the theme around a recent lesson. Some lessons may seem to provide little "wiggle room" for a theme. You'll be surprised at how creative you can be within those constraints. Brainstorm a list of ideas and pick the best ones from there, or at least the ones you can have the most fun with.

If your history class just studied ancient Egypt, you could have the class escape from a pyramid with a mummy in tow. If your English class just covered Mark Twain, you can have the kids survive a perilous trip by raft down the Mighty Mississippi. If your science class just covered nuclear fusion, well, you may need to be creative. And keep them away from the beakers.

Think about what kind of stories your kids like. What kind of books are they hiding inside the science textbook to read during class? Think of ways to incorporate similar stories into your theme. You'll have the edge of immersing them into the game if you utilize themes they love.

If you can't think of a theme, no worries! Just steal one of these themes.

Step 2. Create A Captivating Story From Your Theme

This is the fun part. The place where you write your script and earn your star on the Walk of Fame. You may even win an Oscar for Best Escape Room Game Played In A Classroom. Never stop dreaming!

To win your awards, and capture the imagination of your students, answer these questions.

1. What Are Your Students Trying To Achieve? What are they escaping from? Do they have to recover the stolen plans for the Death Star? Escape from the Zombie Apocalypse? Steal the exam answers from the locked drawer in the teacher's desk? Whatever you choose, make it fun. It should relate to your lessons but does not have to be a perfect fit.

2. What Challenges do they need to overcome to win? Now that you created the final achievement, you need to determine what hurdles they must jump on the path to that goal.

3. What happens if they fail? Have some fun with this one. You might come up with the best ideas on a day when they have driven you completely bonkers.
Kids having a blast playing Lost Mummy
Let your imagination soar. This is where you create the hooks that keep the kids' interest throughout the game. Boring challenges will push them away. But fun challenges combined with an awesome goal and frightening failure penalty will reel them in. In fact, you will need a bigger boat.

After an initial brainstorm listing every side-splitting idea you can conceive, begin to narrow down the ideas. You need concrete ideas with specific objectives. The objectives for your escape room must fit in with the world you've created. Otherwise, they won't make sense, and you'll lose the kids. Every challenge must push them closer to the ultimate goal.

Pick the 3-5 best challenges from the pared-down list. These obstacles will stand between them and ultimate success. You now have the students' Herculean labors. Later, you'll transform these challenges into puzzles for your students to solve.

Now, perfect the threat. Make it specific, credible, and related to your theme. You can be just a little evil here. The type of evil that makes them say "oooooooooo" right before they break out in giggles.

Step 3. Outline Your Learning Outcomes

Your primary goal for the escape room is reinforcing course material and teaching life skills. While you want the game to be fun, fun is the secondary purpose. Decide whether you are testing specific knowledge, aiming to see if students understood overall concepts, or if you have another goal in mind. But be very clear about the ultimate goal.

Once you have that goal, deciding which pieces of classroom learning make their way into your escape room game will be easier.

Of course, this process could be easier if you start from one of these educational classroom games.

Step 4. Build Intriguing Puzzles

In this step, you transform the challenges you designed in Step 2 into puzzles for the game. Here, you can begin to see the game take shape. Your hard work is paying off. You can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Think about what objects might exist in your world. Are there lanterns? Spaceships? A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater? When you brainstorm this step, you'll find objects you didn't think of at first. Don't be afraid to use Professor Google for inspiration and assistance. Or ask ChatGPT for a list.

Keep this list of puzzles handy while you brainstorm, it'll help.
Once you decide on your objectives, incorporate your learning goals. If the escape room classroom is a test on prior material, the puzzles should test the student's knowledge of that material. If the goal is more concept-oriented, the puzzles should test their understanding of different aspects of the concept. Puzzles can also revolve around solving math or science equations.

Remember, this is a time-limited game. While you want the puzzles to force the students to think, the puzzles shouldn't be trick questions. You can force the students to think outside the box, particularly if the game tests their knowledge of the fuzzy subjects, but it shouldn't be "gotcha" type questions.

The possibilities for the type of puzzles are endless. You can force them to recall information to solve a cipher (make your own ciphers by following this guide). They might need to solve an equation to obtain the combination to a padlock. They may need to follow instructions to move from city to city on a map to obtain letters needed to fill in the blank of a sentence that moves them to the final puzzle or allows them to escape. Your mind's the limit on this step!

Step 5. Test Your Game

You probably think that your baby is perfect, or at least close to it. But you need to test the game on other people. After all, it may make sense to you but not to other people. If you don't believe that maxim, ask your family. They'll make it clear to you.

Test your game out on friends, other teachers, or kids not in your class. Ask them whether they found the puzzles easy, fair, or unreasonable. Ask them not to spare your feelings. The goal is to create a great game, and you need their honest feedback to do that.

When testing, look for the following issues:

   • Sticking points. Does everyone get stuck on the same puzzle? If so, the puzzle may need to be revamped. If most people solve the puzzle within a reasonable amount of time, you may be able to leave it as is or make only minor tweaks. After all, one puzzle will be the hardest.

   • Analyze the test subjects' thought processes. Do they approach the puzzles as you intended, or do they try to reach solutions wholly unintendedly? You may need to rewrite this puzzle, especially if the answer is process dependent.

   Smiles! If they solve a puzzle with a high-five or satisfying "a-ha," you've designed a great puzzle! Kudos! You need to revisit your design if they finish with a puzzled look or simply seem burned out.

The testing process is as critical as the design process. Ensure you allow enough time before the unveiling for the testing.

Step 6. Decorate The Room To Celebrate Your Theme

Your game is finished! Congrats! Now it's time to decorate. You need to give a physical dimension to the world you created. Think of yourself as a Hollywood set designer. Without you, the film takes place in an empty room. Who wants to watch that?

How much you decide to decorate depends on your time and budget. Of course, everyone wants the look of a commercial escape room, but not everyone has the same resources. Of course, with a little creativity, you can hit the sweet spot between immersive and cost-effective. Just check out the example of this teacher's game.

You could decide to include a few simple props. Check your attic and the local dollar store for great ideas at a reasonable price. Design a few posters or download some and hang them around the room. Voila! You've decorated your escape room.

You could also go all out. Get props. Hang dark sheets to block out room elements that don't belong in the game. Hang posters. You could even design costumes for the players to wear. Short of hauling in a few hundred pounds of sand for your pyramid, the sky's the limit. The students will love the new world you've created!

The tips from this guide should help you get started.
Escape room game at a school

Step 7. Debrief, Reflect, and Plan

Use your post-game time to reinforce the game's lessons. How did the students use the class lessons to solve the puzzles? Did they make the connection between the puzzles and the information? What were their thoughts as they tackled each puzzle?

Even if they struggled, if they were aware of what they needed to know and apply, the game was a success. You likely also highlighted the value of knowledge. After all, someday, they may need to know these things to defeat an escape room to avoid an eternity in a physician's waiting room reading decade-old magazines.

With the information gained, you can reinforce the weak spots in their knowledge in subsequent classes. You can use puzzles they struggled with as a starting point for the class. This carries the fun of the escape room classroom to your lesson.
After filling in the gaps, you can break the students into small groups and have them design their own 15-minute escape game. They already have the theme. Tell them to design 2-3 questions based on the current class topic. Then have the groups exchange games to see if they can be solved. Classroom escape room ideas can be useful methods of training critical thinking and reinforcing course content. Plus, you may discover budding escape room designers in your class!

Finally, use what you learned to help plan your next escape room lesson. Think about what worked and what didn't. Were the questions too hard? Were there enough puzzles? Did the game effectively cover the class information? Use this knowledge to make your next escape game even better.

Of course, you knew there'd be a next time, right? You can't have just one. Your students will want to play more games. Because the games help reinforce their knowledge and teach invaluable life skills, you'll be planning a new game before you know it!

Or, Skip The Hard Work. Just Grab A Classroom-Ready Escape Room Kit:

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