For an introduction to the Escape Room format and how it can be used in the classroom, please consult this earlier blogpost.

This post is designed to be read alongside its partner post: “Educational Escape Rooms: Case Study 2 – smaller groups / older students

Escape Room case study 1: larger groups / younger students

In the following case study, to successfully “escape”, students have to complete two main stages:

  • Stage 1. Complete a series of missions which consist of the following steps:
    • First step (optional – I find this makes things too easy): Being provided with a clue about where to find the mission ( = a slip of paper with a question or task on it)
    • Second step: Finding a mission slip and alerting the teacher so it can be read out to the class. The team then has to set about completing the task by using the sources dotted around the room
    • Final step: Providing the teacher with the answer to a mission:
      • The teacher asks all students to pay attention as the mission is read out and the answer provided.
      • If the answer is correct, the class gets given the next event in a relevant timeline (the completion of which is essential to finally “escape”)
      • If the answer is incorrect, the class has to get under the desks for a valuable 60 seconds whilst an air-raid siren plays before carrying on (this applies to the World War Two scenario but could be adapted).
  • Stage 2: Reconstruct the timeline pieces in the correct order once all the missions are completed
    • Each of the ten timeline events also has a random digit (0-9) written on it.
    • The teacher has told the students at the start of the lesson that the final event in the timeline will provide the key to decide which of these numbers to use to obtain the final code.
    • This code will unlock the case / open the door / make the phone call that will complete the mission and ensure a successful “escape”.
    • In this way it is only possible for students to “escape” once ALL of the missions have been successfully completed.

Teacher setup instructions

  • The following “Escape Room” scenario, which can be easily adapted, is designed as a stand-alone, 60-minute lesson. Students have 45 minutes to complete the mission, but they
    • Need five minutes after the teacher introduction to explore the sources before being provided with the ‘locate your mission’ slips
    • Need time for a debrief at the end of the activity (whether or not they successfully “escaped”!)

Pre-class preparation

  • Prepare some hint questions: prepare a list of simple factual questions which can be answered through reference to the sources in the room. If students are getting stuck at finding or completing a mission, you can give them one of these questions and reward a correct answer with a hint. You can make these fresh clues as difficult or easy as you wish depending on your judgement.
  • Produce a timeline: prepare a timeline of 10 key events relating to the topic. These are the ‘rewards’ for completing each mission: when the entire timeline is completed, students will be able to crack the final code (see above).

  • Prepare the mission slips: Designing the missions requires two steps – (a) Deciding where to hide it and (b) Deciding what the mission should entail. At their most straightforward, missions can simply take the form of a factual question that can be answered through reference to one of the sources around the room. Another simple idea is to cut up an image and challenge students to find the pieces and reconstruct it to provide the teacher with the answer (e.g. “What is the caption on this propaganda poster?”). Plenty of other ideas about where to hide the missions and what the tasks can consist of are provided in the sample mission slips shared in the animation below.
  • Print out the table of missions, and cut out each row of the table to get 10 separate missions.
  • Take the first row/mission.
    • Cut out the “locate your mission” slip and set it aside ready to share with students later (if you choose to do so – I prefer to simply let students hunt around the room and only provide these ‘hints’ as a reward for answering the ‘hint questions’).
    • Cut around the “mission instruction”/“mission answer” cells to create a second question/answer slip.
    • Hide this mission/instruction slip in the place outlined in the ‘Where is it hidden?’ column.
    • Cut out the “timeline event” slip and set this aside ready to give to students as a reward for completing the mission. NOTE: the timeline pieces do NOT have to match a particular mission. The first mission completed (whichever this happens to be) should get the first event in the timeline, and the others are given out in sequence in the same way. This means that the ‘story’ of the topic unfolds logically during the lesson.
  • Repeat this process the remaining nine missions.
  • Place the sources necessary to answer the ten mission questions in various places around the room.
  • Put a suitcase or similar in the centre of the room, and put a combination lock around it.
  • Place other random objects, images and written sources around the room as distractions for added challenge.
  • Put some suitably atmospheric music on.

Sample missions (note: sources were drawn from some WW2 memorabilia packs I bought from Amazon)

Conducting the activity

  • It’s a good idea to greet students outside the classroom and introduce the scenario before they are allowed inside. Try to formulate a scenario which is suitable engaging and dramatic to capture their imaginations:

“It is 1945. Nazi Germany is on the verge of defeat after being invaded by the Russian forces from the East, and Allied forces from the West. You are a group of top-secret codebreakers at Bletchley Park, England. Thanks to you the Enigma codes of the Nazi high command were broken. However, our celebrations have been cut short because we have received an anonymous phone call that a nuclear bomb has been planted in our operations room by an enemy spy who has locked all escape routes. The caller is a double agent who was pretending to help this spy with their evil work. He is keen to help you escape but had to hide clues in the room so as not to blow his own cover. The bomb is locked in a suitcase in the centre of the room. Your job is to crack the code of the lock so you can open the case and defuse the bomb. It has been placed on a timer, leaving you only 45 minutes”

  • Lead the class into the room and give them 5 minutes to explore the scene, look at the images, handle the artifacts and read the sources.
  • Then explain the main task and set them to work:

“You will have to locate ten missions. Each time you locate a mission, alert the teacher so it can be read out to the group. Similarly, each time you complete a mission, alert your teacher. Your teacher will  read out the question, the answer, and then the next timeline event slip will be read out and given to the class on paperWhen ALL of the missions are completed, the final event in the completed timeline will provide you with what you need to unlock the caseGood luck!”

In this example, each timeline slip contains within it one number in the corner. The final timeline slip says which timeline events (e.g. 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th) contain the numbers for the combination lock.

  • From this point the activity should pretty much run itself – students will start hunting around the room trying to find missions, then completing them, and slowly building up the timeline. As the teacher, all you need to do is have your own copy of the mission slips printed onto a sheet so you can tick off which ones have been located, and which ones have been completed, so that useful hints can be provided as necessary later on. What I find is that for the first few minutes they find very little and rummage around; then they find/solve a sequence of missions; then they hit a brick wall – at which point the

Debriefing and follow-up

  • Students should follow up the activity with further learning. The names of each mission could be key words or individuals relating to the topic that could be researched further, for example.
  • Similarly, the completed timeline could form the basis of further investigation and structured tasks could be set on the primary sources used in the investigation.

Further points to note

  • The “locate your mission” slips could be handed out at the start of the activity to make it easier. However, after running a couple of activities I’ve found it’s much more effective to not give them any clues at all: instead, they should hunt around the room looking for the missions themselves. In a 45-minute activity, I will then provide ‘hints’ for remaining missions as a reward for answering the factual questions once we are reduced down to the last 15 minutes.
  • As the mission progresses, there are inevitably fewer missions left to solve. This too makes it a good idea to have ‘hint’ questions available so that ‘spare’ students can keep busy and help the rest of the team complete the remaining mission(s).
  • There is no problem in having more missions hidden in the room than there are pieces of the timeline. As long as they find and complete ten missions, they will obtain their ten timeline pieces and can complete the mission. Indeed, it’s a good idea to have more missions than you need in the first instance: this will enable you to work out which ones are particularly easy to find / complete so that the next time you do it you can adjust accordingly.
  • In this particular scenario, “Mission Rommel” (involving an ultraviolet pen) is the one designed to demand the most brainpower. It’s a good idea to take the batteries out of the UV torch and wrap some of the other missions around them before hiding them. In this way as they are discovered students will realise that they are clearly significant. Leave the torch in a more obvious place.

D. Some suggestion hiding places for missions (and hints about how to find them)

Idea Hint when students get stuck
Tape the mission instruction to the ceiling (blank side of the paper facing down to make it more difficult to spot). You will have to look upwards to find your mission.
Write the mission onto a laminated surface using a UV pen. Students have to use a torch (the batteries for which could be taken out and hidden around the room for an added challenge). Students love this one. You will have to be quite *bright* to complete this mission.
Hide mission slips in security boxes with combination locks. The correct code corresponds to a date hinted at in a cryptic clue in the room. The date of Barbarossa will unlock your mission.
 Stick the mission onto a part of a globe, then spin it around so it’s facing the wall.  The location of your mission is on the other side of the planet: Singapore, a British colony which fell to the Japanese in 1942.
 Between the pages of a book. Note how the hint to the right demands they use an index to find it.  The location of your mission can be found at the spot of Tunzelmann’s very last reference to Batista in her book “Red Heat”.
 Under a plant pot.  Your mission is planted somewhere rather obvious.

E. Some suggested mission formats

Idea Example
A simple factual question that can be answered through reference to one of the sources in the room What, according to the pamphlet, is the magazine of the Women’s Land Army called?
A simple factual question as above, but encoded using a substitution cypher (e.g. using http://www.dcode.fr/monoalphabetic-substitution). Subtract 1940 from the year that World War Two ended. Use this number to crack this simple substitution cipher and answer this question to complete your mission:
As above, but encoded using a Mexican Code Wheel cypher (e.g. using http://www.dcode.fr/mexican-army-cipher-wheel)  – I use this to add extra complexity to the final mission, for example. You can purchase a Mexican code wheel here (or make one out of paper). Final mission: The combination for the lock can be obtained by decoding the following message. The key to this code will be revealed by the FINAL EVENT in the completed timeline: 29294190763788572551
Provide the images of four people relating to the topic. Students have to name each one of them using the sources around the room to help them. “Name the following people whose faces are shown on this sheet of paper”
Cut up an image / poster that