1. Start with the skills. As with anything in education, you've got to start with a clear idea of what skills you want students to practice. Otherwise it's easy to get lost in planning fun puzzles and lose track of what's really important. For my escape room activity, I started with a list of the top eight skills that I most wanted my students to practice again before state assessments. From there, I knew that I wanted one puzzle to go with each topic.
2. Try using a worksheet/activity that you already have. Some of my puzzles were fancier, but some of them were pretty simple. Some of the simplest puzzles were simply a list of problems from a pre-existing worksheet, and an answer bank. When you're planning an escape room activity, there are all sorts of codes you can have: letters, numbers, directions, colors, and shapes are the first that come to mind. So when you put down your answer bank, just attach a letter (or number or color) to each answer and there you have it! Students solve the problems and use the answer bank to find the correct "code".
3. Make clues that force students to do all of the problems you want them to do, not just some of them. As I was creating clues, I started off with clues like "The answer to problem 2 plus twice the answer of problem 5". If all of your clues are like this, students will only complete the problems that they have to in order to get the code. If you want them to complete all of the problems, consider having at least one clue that forces them to look at all the answers, such as "the difference of the largest and smallest answer".
4. Get creative and add some fun and interest to the puzzle with fake generators. There are all sorts of cool sites that allow you to generate fake text messages, tickets, receipts, etc.... Simple things like these can add some fun to your escape room activity. Here are a few links to get you started:
Fake Text Messages
Fake Concert Ticket Generator
Fake Headline Generator
Fake Receipt Generator
5. Get creative with how you let students know the correct order of the answers in the code. I tried to vary this to keep my students thinking. Here are some things I tried:
- Used a colored border at the top of the paper. Each problem had a colored dot next to it. Students had to match the order of the border to get the answers in order.
- Put a different letter with each problem, and then give a clue how to rearrange those letters to spell a word. When I tried this, I had a puzzle about surface area. The boxes held the letters A-N-I-S-T. Somewhere else on the page were the words, "A very good person". Students were supposed to come up with the word saint.
- Put a different word with each problem, that spell out a common phrase. Students organize the answers according to the phrase. One of my puzzles had four sets of problems, and each set of problems would leave students with one number. The boxes were labeled with these words: ALLIGATOR LATER YOU SEE. Students had to reorder the numbers to make the clue say SEE YOU LATER ALLIGATOR, and this gave them the 4-digit code.
- Use a visual clue. One of my clues, I simply had a different number of dots on each section. Students were supposed to put them in order from one dot to five to find the correct code.
Good luck helping your students to escape the classroom!