Let’s face it. Increasing student engagement in the classroom can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of teaching. Here’s how I turned to escape rooms to change the game for my students!
Finding ways to ignite student engagement in the classroom can be exhausting, especially in today’s educational environment. It was difficult enough to engage students before a pandemic. Now, trying to return to some form of normalcy and help students rediscover that passion for learning might feel nearly impossible. I get it.
What if I told you there’s a way to boost student engagement in the classroom that’s fun, easy, and gets everyone involved?
I’ve been using escape rooms in my classroom for quite a while now, and I love the energy they bring into the lessons my sixth graders are learning. Whether we’re reviewing concepts, prepping for a test, or working through a novel, escape rooms make everything more interesting! And now – we’re doing them more than ever.
Escape rooms have taken the education world by storm, which is why I’m so excited to share more on why escape rooms have a positive impact on student engagement in the classroom and how you can easily facilitate your own.
What Are Escape Rooms?
Escape rooms may be relatively new to the classroom, but they’ve been around for at least a few years. Escape room facilities have gained popularity with corporations, families, and groups of friends because they encourage teamwork and problem-solving skills in exciting and innovative ways.
An escape room is essentially a space created with a particular theme. Once you enter the escape room, you have a certain amount of time (usually an hour) to complete your mission. Sometimes the goal is to get out of the room itself. Other times, you and your teammates have to solve a problem where you are, such as find a buried treasure or building a working spaceship.
You and your group must become detectives in order to complete your respective mission. This is really where the fun begins! Solve riddles, find clues, and crack codes to either escape or reach your goal. It’s impossible for anyone to simply “sit this one out” when going to an escape room, and laughter is an inevitable side effect!
Using escape rooms in your classroom may seem intimidating at first, but they don’t require expensive equipment or have to be overly complex to engage your students. Use them to introduce new information, assess comprehension, and informally review concepts. The possibilities are literally endless!
Why Escape Rooms Are Great for Student Engagement in the Classroom
If you’re still on the fence about why you need escape rooms in your life, let’s talk about why they’re so great for student engagement in the classroom.
Escape Rooms Encourage Mental Movement.
One of the reasons escape rooms are so beneficial for student engagement is because they encourage what I like to think of as “mental movement.” My sixth graders are a very energetic bunch, and we can’t always get up and move around the classroom. However, escape rooms stimulate mental movement because students are cognitively shifting from one task to the next.
Escape Rooms Promote Positive Collaboration With Peers.
I remember hating “group work” when I was in middle school and high school because one person (usually me) did everything and everyone else received the same grade as I did.
I like to think of escape rooms as “slacker-proof” because a significant reason why many students check out during group activities is that they A) aren’t exciting and B) don’t engage their individual learning style. Escape rooms effectively address those issues with minimal effort on your part!
Escape Rooms Engage Learners on a Multi-Modal Level.
Designing a lesson that engages all types of learners can seem impossible at times. However, escape rooms are a realistic way to engage learners through visual, auditory, reading, writing, and kinaesthetic methods like watching videos, listening to clues and songs, and solving problems and riddles with pen and paper.
Escape Rooms Are Exciting!
I’ve rarely seen any of my students jump for joy because they received another worksheet or test review packet. I don’t really blame them! However, they always perk up when they know we’re going to do an escape room because it means they’ll be laughing with each other and challenged at the same time.
Different Types of Classroom Escape Rooms
There are three main types of classroom escape rooms you can facilitate with your students. The versatility is a definite plus, considering how quickly our environmental settings have changed these past few years!
Physical Escape Rooms
If you want to promote student engagement in your physical classroom, this type of escape room is a wonderful way to focus your students’ energy and jump-start critical thinking and teamwork skills.
You can set up a physical escape room in several different ways: with multiple stations, at group tables, and utilizing the space outside of your room as well (like the hallway or library). You can even incorporate activities like scavenger hunt loops within the physical escape rooms for differentiated challenge levels.
Physical escape rooms involve printed materials and tangible objects that students write on and manipulate to solve problems. Some of these include logic puzzles, riddles, codes that unlock actual combination locks, ciphers, and keys that open lockboxes.
A benefit of physical escape rooms is that you can monitor the activity as it’s happening. You can quickly move from group to group to provide hints, encouragement, and guidance. While this type of escape room can be a little challenging to implement because of the time required to prepare it, it’s not impossible and I promise it’s worth it.
Digital Breakout Rooms
Digital breakout rooms are an excellent way to implement escape rooms in a remote learning setting, although I’ve used them in my physical classroom as well.
This type of escape room works well for schools that have 1:1 laptop or tablet programs because everyone has a device they can work on independently and together. An added benefit of digital breakout rooms is that you don’t have to make copies, put together folders, or purchase extra materials.
You can develop and implement digital breakout rooms using online tools like Google Forms and Google Docs to create digital locks and codes. Digital breakout rooms can be a combination of many different online resources, such as Google Slides, YouTube videos, and hyperdocs.
Combination of Physical and Digital
Just like chocolate and peanut butter, escape rooms are better when they’re put together! You can use elements of both physical and digital escape rooms to create a hybrid model.
This allows you to add variety to the escape room tasks, such as having students watch a video before solving a riddle on paper to find a physical item in your classroom. Student engagement skyrockets when kids are regularly shifting their thinking and methods of problem-solving.
Facilitating an Escape Room
Are you pumped and ready to facilitate an escape room in your own classroom? Awesome! Before you begin, I have a few tips for how to pull off your first escape room activity like a pro.
1) Make Sure The Escape Room is Properly Addressing Your Learning Concept
Whether creating your own escape room or using purchased materials, make sure that the activities align with the standards you’re assessing. I know how easy it can be to get swept up in the excitement of this student engagement activity, but you want the lesson to be practical as well as fun.
2) Prep Your Materials Beforehand
We’ve all made that last-minute dash to the copier before class begins because we forgot to prep materials the night before. I know that panic all too well! If you want your escape room activity to be successful, it’s best to have everything set out and organized beforehand. Your approach will be more confident, which will, in turn, help with classroom management.
3) Make Rules and Expectations Clear Ahead of Time
Before you introduce your escape room activity, clearly explain the rules and expectations for student behavior ahead of time. Be very clear about how students will earn credit for participation. I like to put the escape room instructions on Google Slides for my visual learners.
4) Include Visual Reminders
Once the escape room activity begins, it’s easy to lose track of time and get swept up in the fun. That’s why I always include visual reminders to structure and focus student engagement in the classroom. Insert a timer into one of your Google Slides or use an egg timer and remind students every 10-15 minutes about how much time they have left.
5) Let Them Struggle (A Little Bit)
Escape rooms challenge students to think critically and use their problem-solving skills, which may be more difficult for some students than others. As a teacher, I know how tempting it can be to swoop in and help, mainly because I want my students to enjoy the activity.
However, I recommend letting your students fail a few times before giving them a hint or two. Leaving them alone to sort things out not only encourages the group to utilize the skills of every participant but also gives them a sense of accomplishment when they do solve the riddle, puzzle, etc.
Now that you know how beneficial escape rooms can be for improving student engagement in the classroom, I hope I’ve convinced you to give them a try. If you want to take the stress out of creating your own escape room, check out some of my ready-to-use digital and printable escape rooms.