Looking for Active Learning Classroom Strategies? Try an Escape Room

Lead Features June 19 / June 21, 2019

 – Rachel Slivon –

Transforming our classrooms into escape rooms for our students can promote a student-centered learning environment that facilitates active learning, critical thinking and teamwork. Let’s look at what an escape room is, what an escape room can look like in a classroom, and the steps for creating an escape room.

What Is an Escape Room?

An escape room is a live team-based game in which people work together to solve a series of puzzles or accomplish a series of tasks in a given amount of time. The teams successfully escape the room if they solve the puzzles before they run out of time.

What Can an Escape Room Look Like in a Classroom Environment? 

By creating a series of puzzles, problems or activities for students to work through in teams given a set amount of time, we can transform our classrooms into escape rooms. Students must complete one puzzle at a time and have each puzzle’s answers approved before their team can advance to the subsequent puzzle. If students solve all the puzzles in time, they “escape.”

Escape rooms can be flexible: you can build one that is just right for your students and your subject. For example, you may create an escape room with a series of puzzles that progressively introduce a new concept to your students. Or, you may use an escape room to review course material and skills. Whatever you use an escape for, you will be promoting an active, fun learning environment that fosters hands-on experience, critical thinking and problem-solving.

How Can I Create an Escape Room?

We can begin to transform our classrooms into escape rooms by following six guidelines. After each guideline below, you will find an example from my Professional Communication class that responds to each guideline. Let’s look at the six guidelines for creating escape rooms in our classrooms.

  1. Establish your purpose and goals: What do you want the students to accomplish through the escape room? What are your goals, and how do they connect to your course objectives? What material, concepts or skills do you want the students to learn, practice or reflect on?

Example: I want my students to review the material we covered throughout our course. Specifically, I want my students to review how to create a strong presentation structure, how to effectively create PowerPoint slides, and how to use descriptive and emphatic gestures. These goals fulfill my course objective of having students create and deliver strong, dynamic presentations.

  1. Determine the logistics of your escape room: What is your classroom’s physical space? How much time do you have to run your escape room? How many students will be participating? What size teams will you have? What supplies do you need to create the escape room? What supplies will the students need to complete the escape room?

Example: My classroom is conducive to students working in teams. I have about 30 minutes to run my escape room. I have 24 students, so I will have six teams of four students. I will ask my students to bring their laptops since they will need their computers to complete some of the puzzles. I will provide envelopes that contain the other supplies the students will need.

  1. Make your escape room puzzles: How many puzzles will you create given your timeframe? How long do you anticipate the students taking to complete each puzzle? What puzzles will you make and why? What puzzles best meet your purpose and goals? Do you want each puzzle to focus on different concepts or skills? Or, do you want to focus on one specific concept or skill? Do you want to create a tiered approach for your puzzles in which each puzzle gets progressively more difficult?

Example: I have about 30 minutes to run the escape room. I will create a series of three puzzles for my escape room, and I anticipate each puzzle taking students about 10 minutes to complete. My three puzzles will have students review:

    • Strong presentation structure: I will provide my students with a transcript of a speech that I have cut up into about 12 pieces. The students will have to put the pieces of the speech in the correct order.
    • PowerPoint strategies: I will provide students with a poorly designed PowerPoint slide on Canvas, our learning management system, that students must recreate using our PowerPoint strategies.
    • Descriptive and emphatic gestures: I will provide students with a short transcript on Canvas. Students must create appropriate descriptive and emphatic gestures and record themselves using the gestures while delivering the content.

Each puzzle will review a different concept of skill.

  1. Write instructions for each escape room puzzle and instructions for your overall escape room: How can your instructions be as clear and as concise as possible? How can you make your instructions easy to read, understand and follow? How will you deliver your instructions?

Example: For my instructions, I will use short, numbered steps, bold and white space strategically to make the instructions clear and easy to read. I will ask a colleague to review my instructions for clarity. At the beginning of our escape room, I will project the overall escape room instructions to the class on our classroom’s screen and hand out hard copies to the students. For each puzzle, I will provide students with an envelope containing the instructions and the supplies the students will need to complete the puzzle.

  1. Choose a “key,” and create a buzz: What will the “key” to the escape room be? Might you offer candy or another prize to get students excited? What other elements can you add to your escape room to create excitement? Will you announce the escape room activity in advance? Can you use lock boxes, “Do Not Cross” yellow tape, or other elements to enhance your escape room?

Example: For teams that successfully complete the escape room in the given timeframe, I will provide a small bag of candy with a paper “key” that reads, “Congratulations, you have escaped!” For teams that do not complete the escape room in time, I will provide a small bag of candy with a paper that reads, “Congratulations for making it this far!”

  1. Reflect, revise and refine your escape room and your escape room puzzles: What went well with the escape room and each puzzle? What could be improved and how? How can you best survey the students to get their feedback? How can students provide feedback anonymously?

Example: I will ask my students for feedback about the escape room immediately after we finish the activity. We will discuss what they thought went well, what challenges they encountered, and how the escape room could be improved. Then, a week later, I will solicit written feedback from my students via an online anonymous survey.

Like many Flipped Learning activities, building an escape room takes time, and it is well worth the effort. Escape rooms encourage our students to actively engage with our course material as they practice and refine their teamwork and critical thinking skills.




Rachel Slivon
Rachel Slivon
Dr. Slivon teaches professional communication and writing in the specialized master’s and MBA programs at the Warrington College of Business. Dr. Slivon has over ten years’ experience teaching and developing courses and workshops in oral and written communication for undergraduate and graduate students. Prior to joining the Management Communication Center, she developed and taught courses in technical writing, professional writing for engineers, and public speaking.

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