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A zombie escape room is my favorite Halloween activity for the middle and high school ELA classroom. Not only is it an extremely entertaining way to bring the spirit of Halloween into ELA class, but it also helps students develop problem-solving, critical thinking, and other ELA skills that will benefit them going forward. I love using a zombie escape room because it is a great team-building activity that helps foster classroom community. Here are some tips for running yours smoothly!
Before your students arrive to class on your zombie escape room day, you’ll want to think about grouping. Determine how many groups will work best for your classroom. Ideally, each group will have less than 4 students, but every classroom is different and if you have a lot of students in your class, you can go up to 5 or 6 students per group if necessary.
Choose the groups in advance and have them projected on the board for students to see when they get to class. Instead of picking the groups at random, you’ll want to take skill level into consideration here (skills in ELA and problem-solving in general) so that some groups do not have an unfair advantage. You’ll want the groups to be as evenly matched as possible.
Another thing you’ll want to do ahead of time is set up each of the stations before students arrive. If possible, spread out the stations so they are not close to each other. If you have a lot of students, I would recommend setting up in a larger area (like at the cafeteria or the theater, for example). This will keep the noise (and the distractions) at bay! If this is not an option, it can still definitely work, but do your best to spread out the stations away from each other to minimize distractions.
As for the printed activities themselves, you’ll want to have multiple copies at each station so that students are never waiting around. This is especially crucial for bigger classes with more groups than stations. You should also print out an answer booklet or page for each group ahead of time to keep things organized.
One thing I’ve learned over the years of doing this is that lamination is key. It can take a bit of time to prepare your first escape room, so do yourself a favor and laminate it before you start cutting. If you laminate your activity cards, puzzle pieces, instructions, envelopes, and folding table markers at the outset, you can reuse them from class to class and year to year.
All great escape rooms, like this one, come with a backstory that will hook students in. You, the teacher, have turned into a zombie, and your students need to solve a series of activities and puzzles to get the ingredients needed to turn you back to your human form. On the day of the escape room, however, there are other things you can do to get students to buy in even more!
For example, you can show a Halloween or zombie-themed video to set the tone at the start of class. Or you can decorate your room zombie-style and add a poster that says something like “Welcome to the zombie apocalypse!” I heard from one teacher who actually dressed up as a zombie that day and hid in the classroom closet to freak out the students. Now that’s commitment! There are lots of ways that you can build hype and spark student engagement for this activity.
If you do pull off something creative for this, be sure to tell me all about it in the reviews!
Then, you are going to want to provide clear instructions for your students to follow. I suggest that you explain them more than once and ask students questions about the rules so they can repeat them back to you. Are we going to be doing station number 6?! No, not until the end! This will help ensure that your students truly understand the instructions you’ve given them. There is nothing worse than starting the escape room and hearing a bunch of questions that you just addressed in your instructions…
To further minimize questions, I also give a handout to each group with the instructions, and I keep instructions at each of the stations as well. For this particular escape room, here are some general instructions you’ll want to give:
Now it’s time to run the ELA Halloween escape room itself! Have students circulate the class for this, completing the tasks, and really try to avoid helping them. When they are struggling, let them struggle. Instead of spoon-feeding them the answers, encourage students to problem solve on their own. Your students will get more from this activity if you allow for moments of slight discomfort, frustration, and uncertainty.
When a group of students is finished, it is important that you take the time to review their answer booklets. Escape room challenges like this one can get competitive and students can easily miss something in their race to win. To keep it fair, it is best not to simply assume that they did it right. I also encourage the non-winning teams to still try to complete it: they can compete for second and third, for example. You might even have varying prizes for the top three groups!
Once everyone has completed the escape room, it’s a good idea to go over the tasks at each of the stations and have students volunteer to explain how it was solved. This way, everyone can understand how the final answers were obtained.
*Tip: if you have another class coming in, get your students to set it back up as it was before they leave. Your students will know how to do that. If you don’t have another class coming in, get students to clean it up and bring everything back to you in a more organized fashion instead. There’s no reason to do all of this yourself when you have a classroom full of potential helpers.
The last thing to do is get a picture of each of the teams at the end! Trust me: it’s worth the little effort it takes to capture this memorable moment. You can even get the students to hold zombie props or signs that say something like “We saved our teacher!”
That’s it! I hope you found these suggestions helpful and that your Halloween escape room activity goes smoothly with your ELA class. Click here to grab the zombie teacher escape room activity if you don’t have it yet. If you’re looking for other ways to bring Halloween into the classroom, you’ll want to also check out this blog on that topic.
Have fun with this, and Happy Halloween! 🎃
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