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Have you been thinking about trying escape rooms in your ELA classroom but are not sure where to begin? Classroom escape rooms (sometimes referred to as break-out activities) consist of a series of stations with challenges and puzzles that students complete in groups. They usually revolve around a narrative story that places students in a fictional situation from which they will need to escape in some way. Here are 7 tips for running a successful escape room in your ELA classroom!
Escape rooms not only foster creativity and activate problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but they also make for a fun and engaging way of teaching core ELA skills. When using an escape room in your ELA classroom, you’ll want to be intentional about which standards or skills you will address. ELA topics with objective right and wrong answers work best. Here are some of the skills I like to address in my escape rooms:
Your choice of which topic (or topics) to cover will also depend on your curriculum as well as what you think your students could benefit from learning about in a more interactive way!
Your 5-6 station activities will form the core of your escape rooms, so it makes sense that preparing these is the hardest part of putting together this type of activity. What you’ll want to do first is think of specific tasks where the correct answers correspond to words, letters, or numbers that produce a mystery phrase, word, or code. Let me explain by using an example.
For one of the stations in my comma escape room, students must read a paragraph of writing where it’s indicated that there are 10 commas missing from the text. After reading the text, students must add the commas where they are supposed to go and then write the word to the left of the comma into an answer sheet (pictured below). When done correctly, the shaded letters will spell out a mystery word (or words).
Or let’s say you were running a grammar escape room and one of the skills you are looking to address is capitalization. You might have four sheets of paper (each numbered 1-4) with a sentence written with capitalization errors. Then, you could cut up the pages so that students need to put the sentence back together before reading and determining how many capitalization errors there are in each sentence, revealing a code.
If you don’t want to prepare your own escape rooms, there are lots of pre-made escape room resources that you can purchase for ELA. Browse ELA escape rooms on TpT and find one that works for you!
Start thinking about how you can build anticipation for your classroom escape room a few days before you do it. One way to do this is by putting up subtle signs in the classroom that build hype and foreshadow the theme of the escape room.
For example, if you were using the Classroom Floor is Lava Escape Room, you might hang a poster that says “Volcanic eruption may occur in the next few days.” Or if you were using the Zombie Escape Room, you might put up one that says “Beware of Zombies.” Then, don’t say anything about it. The idea here is to just get students talking and to create excitement around the mysterious upcoming activity.
As for setting up your classroom, you’ll need to consider how many students you have relative to your classroom space. If you have a large class, you may want to do your escape room in a larger area at the school. This way, your stations will be less cluttered and the groups will be less prone to copy from one another. Also, it’s a good idea to make sure you have multiple copies of each of the activities at each station. Consider laminating the activities so that you can easily reuse everything.
Bonus tip: End class a few minutes early and enlist your students’ help with cleaning up at the end and preparing for the next class. It will take them much less time than if you were to do it all alone.
When it comes to grouping students there are two things to keep in mind. First of all, you’ll need to determine how many students per group depending on your class size. I recommend trying to keep it between 3-5 per group. I tend to think 4 per group is a nice number to go with, but it’s up to you.
Secondly, you’ll want to make sure you group students appropriately in terms of skill level. Try to have groups consisting of students with mixed abilities. For example, you don’t want to end up having the strongest students together in one group.
Escape rooms can tend to have more moving parts than other activities you may do with your class. In order for them to run successfully, it’s crucial that the rules are crystal clear to your students. You might notice your students zoning out while you’re explaining the instructions. Hone in on them by getting students to repeat them back to you. You might also give hand-outs of the rules to serve as reminders for groups as they are going through the escape rooms.
In my escape rooms, I instruct students not to do the final station until the rest of them are complete. This is because of the way the final station serves to culminate the activity. Accordingly, it’s important that all students know this. Otherwise, if they complete the final station early, it could interfere with their (or another group’s) ability to finish the escape room.
Once the escape room is running smoothly, all your hard work will pay off! This is when you get to sit back and have fun watching the activity from the sidelines. I really encourage teachers to limit the amount of help they give students throughout the course of the actual escape room activity. You might allot one clue per group, if necessary, but that should be it.
Ideally, students will struggle with these and then persevere by being resilient. I also like to encourage each group to finish, so there’s a second and third place, etc., instead of having everyone stop once there is a winner.
Once all students have completed the escape room, it’s time to celebrate! You can even take a picture of each of the groups—perhaps with pre-made signs that say “We Escaped!”—to commemorate the fun activity.
In addition to celebrating with students, I also like to do some reflection with them. Reflect on what was hard, what was easy, as well as what they liked and didn’t like about the escape room.
There you have it! I hope these tips help you pull off the best ELA escape room activity with your students. If you’re interested in checking out more tips, resources, and strategies for building your classroom community, click here.
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