August 3, 2016

Escape Rooms in the Classroom

DJ Embry
Illustration of a maze

What is an escape room?

An escape room is typically a one hour submersion into a scenario built around a specific theme. Participants are locked in a room and given a set of puzzles and clues that need to be solved in order to escape the room within that hour (or whatever the given time limit).

What do you need?

escape room supplies

Locks. You will need locks. These can be found at a variety of stores and can range in price from $7.00  to $15.00 each. You will need a 1) standard lock with a key, 2) a 4 number combination lock, 3) a word combination lock, and a 5) directional lock.

TIP 1: You can get multiple sets of locks to run multiple rooms or multiple groups at one time.

TIP 2: You can get only one set and get each lock in a different color so you can color code the clues. This also works with multiple groups as each group can be working toward unlocking the lock of their group’s color; i.e., the green group unlocks the green lock.

escape room lockout

A lockout hasp. This can be found online or in some home improvement stores. It can be purchased for less than $5. All of the locks will be put on this.

You will also need a box that has a place for a lock. Toolboxes, ammunition boxes, etc… are ideal for this. This box, will be where the solution, prize, treasure, etc… will be found, so make sure it is large enough to suit your needs.

supplies escape room

Invisible ink markers and a blacklight. You will write messages, clues, codes, etc… with the invisible ink, and the participants will then use the blacklights to find them. Together, these items can be purchased for around $20 (or less).

You will also need a lock box  some kind. You can find boxes that vary in combination length and price (under $20).


You will need a flash drive. Not all escape rooms use these, but if you want to incorporate a video clue of any kind, this is an essential part of any escape room kit. You can get these for about $5.    


Escape room Kit

How do you use an escape room in the classroom?

For example...

We’ve all been there: the first day of school. A new year with a fresh batch of students, some of whom are actually glad to be back at school...so they can see their friends. My task is to introduce these shiny new expectant learners to my class and all of the intricacies that go with it. The problem? In high school, the kids are subjected to the monotonous drone of classroom rules and procedures seven times. Seven times! You can imagine how eager the kids will be to jump off this merry go round.

My solution? A Walking Dead escape room whereby the kids will be given 30 minutes to solve the clues leading them to the classroom rules and procedures (and some candy or other small extrinsic reward for solving the puzzle). Sounds simple, right? It is for the most part, but the parameters of a high school classroom/bell schedule necessitate changes to the escape room experience.

Typically, participants have one hour to solve the puzzle and escape the room. As most class periods are 45-50 minutes, this time frame will not work. Further, the classes meet back to back with little time to reset the room between periods. For these reasons, I settled on a 30 minute escape room. It will fit within my 45 minute class period and give me reset time as well. While I am preparing for the next class, the students will be engaged in an exit ticket activity as assigned by the solution to the escape room. In the case of The Walking Dead room, the students will come up with 3 questions (modeled after Rick’s 3 questions) paramount to their survival in sophomore English. I will answer the most commonly asked questions in class the next day.

Escape rooms also limit the number of participants allowed per challenge. I do not have that luxury in class; I cannot tell 5-10 kids to just chill while the others participate. Lord of the Flies anyone? To that end, I have options. I can split my room into multiple escape rooms, I can make the challenge one that is accessible for a large number of participants, or the one I will use for the Walking Dead escape room, I can color code the clues allowing the kids to complete the challenge in smaller groups. Each group will solve only the clues matching their assigned (or chosen) colors. Each color’s clues will ultimately lead to the unlocking of one lock; this means the solution is not revealed until all groups have solved its part of the puzzle. Alternatively, you could have four or five escape room kits (color coded of course), and each group would be working to solve the same puzzles and clues.

Any reputable escape room will also forbid the use of cell phones and any cameras or recording devices. They also ask that participants refrain from discussing the details of the escape rooms with others. If they do, they ruin the fun, right? Well, as you can probably guess, teenagers are not so great on the “don’t tell your friends” part. To dissuade the sharing of information, I will make it a competition between classes. Whichever class solves the puzzle and escapes the room in the shortest amount of time will be rewarded the next day. Teenagers are competitive animals; this should squash most of the chatter, but because I am not a terribly trusting soul, I will have two or three sets of the color coded clues so I can alternate them as I reset for each class. The answers and hiding places will be similar but different for each set. The kids can talk if they want. It will make escape even more difficult. Bwahahaha!

Alternate ideas…

You can also use an escape room as an entry event to a unit. For instance, when we read Alas, Babylon and begin our apocalyptic/survival unit, my students will be submerged into the Cold War, nuclear weaponry, and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) whereby they will have the class period to find the the counter strike codes and stop an imminent nuclear attack. Talk about a hook, right?

Escape rooms can even be used as a review before an assessment. The answers to the clues and puzzles would be the information learned in the current unit of study. The speed in which they complete this type of escape room would be a great indicator as to how well they know the information and how well they will perform on the assessment. TIP: The same methodology could be applied to standardized assessments if done in smaller chunks.

Why are the kids having all the fun? Escape rooms can also be used in PD (professional development). Let’s face it, there is always some tedious information the entire staff must get before the start of a new year. I can’t think of a more entertaining way to impart that information to them. Plus, talk about a team building exercise! OR, It could be something you do as a staff solely for team building. It can be an escape room just for fun, and a faculty with a lot of new faces can bond in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. OR,  you could break your staff into teams and have them design escape rooms for each other and then have them solve the other team’s room. The purpose of these rooms could be just for fun, school pride (school motto, alma mater, mission statement, etc…), or to share some of the required beginning of the year information.

There you have it, escaping monotony in the classroom. Thanks for reading!

Looking for a free halloween themed escape room?  Check out our kit here: https://www.goguardian.com/blog/learning/how-to-build-a-diy-escape-room-for-your-classroom/