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ELA Escape Room

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Today my students participated in our first-ever escape room. It. was. amazing. I think it's always a good sign when students are on their feet reading, leaning over a passage, and verbally thinking through text based questions.

Not only did the students have a blast, they learned more about close reading and multiple choice than I could have ever taught them in a traditional lecture-style lesson. In an escape room, students are truly doing the work of learning. They are unpacking the lesson clue by clue.

Planning an Escape Room Step by Step

1. Start by thinking of what standards and/or skills you want your students to master. For me, my goal was to reinforce close reading and text analysis skills while also practicing multiple choice skills. With the New York State exam approaching, close reading and analysis are essential skills.

Clues helped students practice meaningful multiple choice strategies.

2. With standards in mind, choose your activities. I decided that I wanted my students to close read a nonfiction article, to identify the types of multiple choice questions they would encounter on the state exam, to evaluate answer choices to the questions, figuring out which answers were "distractions" from the right answers, and to build the practice of looking to the text for their answers.

Having your activities mapped out and breaking down a task like reading an article and answering multiple choice questions into multiple skills you want your students to demonstrate will allow you to then think creatively about how you will hide clues within each activity.

Remember, you must also think carefully about timing. With materials, less is more--for me this meant one article, five multiple choice questions. There are many more skills I would love for my students to master, but I chose to focus on one close read and set of multiple choice questions knowing that less material would allow students to have a richer learning experience.

Students stood on their feet as they completed close reading.  They were so excited!

3. Choose, buy, or gather your materials. There are many suggestions online regarding materials, many of which suggest buying boxes, locks, flashlights, black light pens, etc. This stuff would no doubt spice up your escape room, but I chose to go as cheap as possible. Without locks, I needed strong clues and well structured activities.

For boxes, I emailed colleagues asking to borrow money boxes for the week and immediately had more than I needed. Most schools have money boxes lying around for plays and sporting events. Use them for free!

4. Craft your clues. On post it notes, I had my activities sketched out and brainstormed each clue. Think of how you can hide clues in a text, how answers can have clues hidden within, or how you can add little clues on task cards that would take detective work to figure out.

Also think, once again, of the skills and standards you're trying to reinforce. For me, I wanted to reinforce close reading, so I hid answers in the text that students would have to read closely to find.

For the multiple choice, students had to identify the question types using task cards. When the task cards were in order, small letters on the bottom of the task cards spelled out "FILES." The next clue was in my filing cabinet.

Get creative with clues and have fun seeing your students unpack them.

Breakout Game Reflection/Exit Ticket

5. Set up clear rules. I had rules displayed on my Smart board and reviewed them carefully before students set off on their mission.

My rules were: you must find the clues in order. If you find a clue out of order, put it back and keep looking. When you find a clue, discreetly take it out and neatly return the lock box to where you found it (this way I could fill the boxes with enough clues for all of my classes--low maintenance during the school day is key!). Take only one clue per group, but take one article and set of questions per person (save photocopy time!).

6. Hold each group accountable. One of the biggest questions I get asked about escape rooms is, "What if groups see each other finding clues?" They will see each other finding clues and that's okay. For my escape rooms, I require students to complete clues in order and there is always some way that each group is held accountable.

For the close reading escape rooms, students who rush through clues are at a disadvantage at the end when they have to answer questions about the article. Groups who rushed end up retracing their steps and doing the close read. In my poetry and literary devices escape rooms, I created worksheets that had to be filled out and handed in for groups to win. There was a question on the worksheet that corresponded to each clue groups had to work through.


Overall, planning an escape room is the hardest, most time consuming part of the process. Executing the escape room is by far the most rewarding.

I'm pretty sure my students want weekly escape rooms now, which I would totally do if there were 500 hours in the day! I will definitely be planning more. Escape rooms are the perfect combination of fun and meaningful learning.

I recently added a new escape room to the mix: a literary devices escape room. My students love Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" and this escape room is based on his short story.

Finally, I put all of my escape rooms in a bundle so teachers have several escape rooms to implement throughout the school year. I know once my students experienced one escape room, they kept on asking for more!

Close Reading and Multiple Choice Escape Room set up:

Pictures from left to right:

1. Students were told to find the first paper clue in the classroom and that would lead them to the first of five lock boxes.

2. The first clue, Keep your books close, keep your reading closer, led students to the book shelves.

3. The bookshelf lock box had an article on Amelia Earhart that students were told to read closely enough to find the next clue. Within the article, the words empty, box, of, books were all in bold. When students figured that out, they were led to an empty box among all of my book boxes.

4. In the empty box, students found their multiple choice questions and the multiple choice task cards.

5. When the task cards were put in order identifying each type of multiple choice questions, the small letters at the bottom of the task cards spelled FILES (when students answered this one wrong, they searched for flies! It didn't take them long to correct it!).

6. The next box was in the filing cabinet.

7. The filing cabinet clue told students to look back in the passage to identify where the answers for each question could be found. This activity teaches them to look back in the text! For one of the questions, they had to add the question number to the paragraph number, which equaled 28.

8. The only place the number 28 exists in my classroom is on my calendar, where they found the next clue: recycling bin!

9. In the recycling bin, students found the next lock box (it's 90% clean in there--I hope!).

10. The recycling bin clue came with a code breaker card and a bulls-eye graphic asking students to identify, in one multiple choice question, the answer choices that were best, kind of right, partially wrong, and clearly wrong. This was MY FAVORITE activity and the one that became an aha moment for students. When they broke the code, this clue spelled DOOR.

11. The final lock box was behind a closet door in my classroom.

12. The fifth and final clue told students to finally answer the questions. When they answered the questions and used the code breaker, the answers spelled out SWEET.

If there is one solid lesson the students in my class have learned, it's where the sweets are! The first group to crack the clue ran to my sweets jar! The final congratulatory clue was in the candy bin. Students in the winning group were rewarded with a treat.

After all the excitement died down, I called students back to their seats and they completed a reflection, sharing what they learned from the experience. They were so quiet working on their reflections! Reading through them this afternoon confirmed what a rich and meaningful learning experience the escape room had been for students. They truly experienced close reading in a hands-on way--not an easy task in an English Language Arts classroom!

Short on time? Skip the planning and writing by using an engaging, standards-learning-based escape room that has already been created for you. Close Reading and Multiple Choice escape room by clicking here. Enjoy!

Close Reading and Multiple Choice Escape Room with Step by Step Directions:

New Escape Room for Poetry!

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