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Escape the classroom Graham Stanley 8th February 2019
An escape room is an adventure game set within a confined space in which players solve puzzles to unlock the door, which originally started as a computer game During this workshop, we will look at how you can motivate your students, be they children, teenagers, or adults, by turning your classroom into an escape room with a focus on language skills practice in a fun way. You will be shown some ready-made practical examples you can use in their own teaching contexts, as well as ideas of how they can design their own escape room puzzles for learners.
Graham Stanley is author of ´Language learning and Technology' (CUP, 2013), winner of the ESU HRH Duke of Edinburgh ELT Book of the year award, and co-author of 'Digital Play: Computer games and language aims' (Delta, 2011), which won an ELT Innovations (ELTon) award. He works for British Council Mexico.
Escape the Room games such as Sign can be easily adapted to the ELT classroom – they provide opportunities for language practice, especially skills work (Reading, Speaking in particular) because of the information gaps in what the players need in order to solve the puzles.
If you want to prepare a game such as this for students, make use of the written ‘walkthroughs’ that players produce and share online – this gives you the basis of the text you can then use to build activities around.
Find out more about using Escape Room videogames and other genres for language learning in the book and blog Digital Play, which I co-wrote with Kye Mawer.
Recenty, escape room games have become an entertainment franchise, with multiple organisations opping up in cities around he world offering different experiences – they usually involve teams of people spending 1 hour to try to escape and are popular with children, familes, adults and even companies (they are great team building activities).
I have recently become interested in using escape romos for ELT, and have been running a TESOL Electronic Village Online session to explore what can be done with this idea – there are over 140 teachers signed up for this and many are sharing their ideas. I also started a blog to record my ideas and provide content for the EVO sesión. Why use Escape Rooms games in LET? Here are some reasons.
The best way to understand how Escape Rooms can be used in ELT is do see one in action, so here is an example…
Scenario: You are all members of an organisation called ‘Fix It’ that offers a service to “solve problems no matter how difficult or dangerous”. You have been contacted by a client (confidential, anonymous) who needs you to recover a mask that has been reported as stolen.
You have been sent to the house of the Spanish diplomat Enrique Chábeli, who is currently not at home. Apparently the mask has been hidden somewhere in the room you are currently in. To help you, you have been given the briefing that was given to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) this morning. As you look for clues, you are told that the CID detectives are on their way to the house to search for the mask. You have thirty minutes to find it before they get there.
Scenario: To help you, you have been given the briefing that was given to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) this morning.
Please speed read the first half of the CID briefing and take note of any information you think may be necessary.
NOTE: In class, with students, I would ask them to ask me questions about this and also check their understanding of vocabulary, etc.
Scenario: Here is the second half of the CID briefing. Unfortunately, we were not able to secure a copy of the details of the guests, but it is known that Enrique wrote profiles of each of the 6 guests as part of the police investigation, and so we hope he has copies of these somewhere in his apartment.
Please speed read the second half of the CID briefing and take note of any information you think may be necessary.
As you look for clues, you are told that the CID detectives are on their way to the house to search for the mask. You have twenty minutes to find it before they get there.
Of course, unlike Escape Rooms for entertainment, you’ll be in a classroom and the students Will have to pretend it is an apartment. You could use props to make it more like an apartment, and so you have places to hide clues, or you can hide the clues in the space you have, which is what I have chosen to do in this game.
Imagine you are students in this classroom (pretending it is an apartment) – where would you look?
In an envelope attached under the desk/chair, you find a letter (first half above)
The second half of the letter
You find profiles of the guests in the envelope underneath a chair
Another profile taped under a chair
And another one
A fourth profile taped under a chair
Hidden messages in ballons and funny metal boxes – using invisible ink on paper scrunched up
Underneath a chair attached by velcro, you find a clear plastic bag with an assortment of pieces in it /an image of a man
Piecing it together forms the image of a bearded man. There’s something on the back of some of the pieces.
Turning the image over, you find the words ‘red lock’ and the numbers 519 written on the back
Under the litter bin (?) you find a locked bag with a folder inside it. The lock is red and has a 3 digit combination.
One of you finds the fifth profile
You unlock the combination and find the last guest profile. Why was this one locked up? What is special about it?
You go to the clock and find it has a secret compartment. Inside is a locked bag with an object in it. The lock is a golden 3 number combination lock.
You realise the number that unlocks the bag is on the last suspect file you found. Inside the bag is the missing mask! You have managed to find the mask before the police arrive.
The students have solved the puzzles and have escaped the room, but there are follow up learning opportunities you can take advantage of.
First of all, a debrief – the “Fix It” agents need to tell their supervisor what they have found, how they found it and what they think has happened.
Then…give everyone a copy of all the documents at this point and ask them to work in groups to discuss the questions?
You realise there is more to this than first meets the eye. Ask the students to continue to discuss the questions.
The real story
Don’t tell the students this – let them decide on their own theories of what happened and what happens next.
There are a number of different follow-up activities to the escape room that can be done in order to practise speaking / writing
Here are some notes on how I went about designing this ELT Escape Room
It helped me look at the sequence of the game in order to see better the overall picture. Although this is depicted as a linear game, there are some things that could happen at different points (i.e. the order players find things), but this does not realy matter. Even if the players find the locked pouch they cannot get to the mask without opening the other locked pouch to find the combination.
Hints: If students are having difficulty, tell them they can ask you for hints. Suggested hints include: telling where students to look if they haven’t found a clue / giving them a hint that they need to cut the black cards to read a secret message / that the combination for the golden lock is on one of the guest profiles / etc.
You can adapt props to your own situation. I first thought magnets would be a Good idea, but now think velcro spots are better – they are cheaper and can be stuck to any Surface (e.g. to the bottom of a chair in order to hide a document)
Having treasure to fnd is useful – you can use anything though and make it an object of desire.
To finish, let’s look at another escape room type activity – this one is purely digital and can be used with students if you have a projector in your classroom.
Scenario: (for advanced learners) Let’s look at an example for Advanced learners of using a cipher. Although as it has been presented, this activity is designed for advanced learners, it can be adapted for lower levels by simplifying the language.
Scenario: The city is being terrorised by #jackboom, a deranged explosives expert who delights in setting booby-trapped bombs. You are the city’s crack anti-explosive team and are called by the police to the 42nd floor of a high-rise building to defuse the latest bomb that #jackboom has planted.
The mechanism on the bomb that #jackboom planted looks simple enough. There is a timer – it looks like when it reaches 00:00:00 the bomb will explode.
A red and blue wire leads from the mechanism to the bomb. The countdown has not started yet, but the clock shows less than a minute is left before it the bomb will explode.
On the back of the bomb there is a keypad where you can input numbers and then press ‘Enter’. The keypad won’t accept letters.
Next to the keypad are four symbols and spaces below where the numbers appear when you enter them.
As you look at the bomb, news comes in that #jackboom has sent via email an image of a strange code to the police, and you think it may be a clue to defusing the bomb. Surely this shows you the numbers you need to defuse the bomb?
More games like this: https://jayisgames.com/tag/neutral
Want more ideas how to use
Escape Room videogames?
Escape Rooms for English Language Teaching
Real information gap Problem-posing approach Embodied learning
Discovery learning Participatory methodology Immersion
Social interaction Storytelling Fun and different
Inside the pouch you
the Mayan mask!
Now…what do you do?
What next? Debrief
Back at Fix It, you meet with your
supervisors to tell them what happened
and who you think was responsible for
stealing the Mayan mask.
Who stole the mask? Why?
Discuss in groups together and then report
to everyone your theory.
Wait a minute…!
If one of the guests stole the mask, how
come it was still in Enrique’s apartment?
Who stole the mask? Why?
What do you think the police will do when
they arrive at the apartment?
Who was your mysterious client?
What Information about the mask /
suspects are you going to give the pólice?
The real story behind the mask
Enrique has money problems and decided to report
the mask missing in order to claim on insurance.
While being interviewed by the police, they asked to
search his apartment. He had to agree, but
contacted Fix It to find and remove the mask before
the pólice had time to arrive. He had hidden the
mask in the apartment, but knew the pólice would
find it if they searched.
Fortunately, Fix It found the mask and so the police
returned to the Information Enrique gave about the
Students take the role of one of the suspects (and
Enrique) as they are being interviewed by Police
Two of the suspects are accused (Criag and Patricia),
but claim they have an alibi at the party. They are
interviewed to see if their alibi holds.
The students choose a character and write a report
of what happened at the party
Design of the game
Language learning outcomes
Start here. Important that the main purpose of the
ER is to give students the opportunity to receive
language input / practise.
Genre / setting / narrative
Detective story with a twist – Information gaps /
mystery to pique student curiosity / encourage
discusión – important to have coherent narrative.
Puzzles I didn’t want students to be stuck for long on
the puzzles – difficulty, variety and number needs to
be sufficient to engage but not too much to frustrate
or take up too much time.
What can I use as the
goal of the game?
An example ELT Escape Room
cipher activity for Advanced learners
The city is being terrorised by
#jackboom, a deranged explosives
expert who delights in setting
You are the city’s crack anti-
explosive team and are called by
the police to the 42nd floor of a
high-rise building to defuse the
latest bomb that #jackboom has
A red and blue wire leads from the mechanism to the bomb. The
countdown has not started yet, but the clock shows less than a
minute is left before it the bomb will explode.
The mechanism on the bomb that #jackboom planted looks simple
enough. There is a timer – it looks like when it reaches 00:00:00 the
bomb will explode.
On the back of the bomb there is a keypad where you can input
numbers and then press ‘Enter’. The keypad won’t accept letters.
Next to the keypad are four symbols and spaces below where the
numbers appear when you enter them. Do you recognise all of the