I learned about Breakout EDU from the middle school librarian (Chris Cassidy) in my district. She has been creating and adapting Breakout EDU lessons over the past few years for middle school classes on topics in English language arts, social studies, and math. We have also worked to demonstrate how to use Breakout EDU with other teachers in the middle school as well as elementary schools in our district. Here are some tips to help you get started with using Breakout EDU activities in your classroom.
What is a Breakout?
Breakouts are similar to escape rooms. Instead of trying to solve puzzles to escape a room, students must solve puzzles to open a box. Katrina Schwartz at MindShift has a great summary of breakout activities:
The goal of a Breakout is for groups of students to work together to solve a series of puzzles. Each correct puzzle yields a part of the final code, which opens a locked box. If groups can complete all the puzzles and get the correct code in one hour, they successfully “breakout.”
Why You Should Try Breakout EDU in Your Classroom
The first time students complete a breakout activity they will often struggle because of lack of communication and not working collaboratively with their peers. As students complete more breakout activities and solve more puzzles they will understand why it is important to work collaboratively in their group to complete the breakout activity. Nancy Minicozzi at CommonSense.org discusses how to help students reflect on their success and failures:
Students playing Breakout EDU games learn quickly that it’s much easier to solve puzzles and open locks when working together. After every game, the teacher debriefs the students and asks them what they thought went well and what they could improve. Invariably, the students who solved puzzles and opened their locks talk about how well they worked as a team, how they listened to everyone’s ideas, and how they took turns. The less successful teams often talk about fighting, arguing, and not listening to each other. The more games they play, the better they get at communicating and collaborating.
Breakouts aren’t just about learning soft skills like communication and collaboration. Janelle Cox at TeachHub.com explains why Breakout EDU is a great learning activity:
Each challenge can be specifically designed to focus on the skills and content you want reinforced. Want to focus on multiplication skills, nonfiction reading, lab equipment review, or the solar system? The beauty of the breakout experience is that it can be custom made to fit your desired focus.
In my district teacher have used breakouts as a culminating activity for students to use what they have learned over the course a unit to solve the puzzles. We have also used it as a way to introduce students to a topic and assess their prior knowledge.
Take Advantage of the Free Resources
There are many free Breakout EDU resources for you to explore on the Breakout EDU website. Some of these were created and shared by teachers while others are created by the Breakout EDU staff.
Digital games are another option and are great because they don’t require physical boxes with locks. Below are resources for free digital breakout games you can use:
- Breakout EDU Digital Sandbox: Database of free teacher made digital breakouts.
- Tom’s Digital Breakouts: Several digital breakouts for digital citizenship, math, science, ELA, and social studies.
- Reimers Resources: Selection of digital breakouts to explore.
- ES Digital Breakouts: Digital breakouts for grades K-5.
- Teaching and Learning: Social studies and ELA breakouts.
- EJD Digital Breakouts: Grades 6-8 socials studies digital breakouts.
Also, teachers are quick to respond with resources and activities on many of the Breakout EDU Facebook groups. Below are the groups organized by topic:
- General Breakout EDU
- Social Studies
- Art & Music
- Physical Education
- Gifted & Talented
Use Short Activities
When I first started using breakouts they typically took an entire period or about an hour. While breakouts are interesting and engaging activities for students not every teacher can devote an entire class period to these learning activities. The blog A View of the Web discusses why full period breakout activities can be difficult to facilitate:
Sometimes teachers don’t have the time to sit down and plan or set up an entire breakout that’s going to take a majority of the class period (if not a couple days depending on time and post-breakout discussion.). And sometimes it’s just plain over-whelming. Too much to think about during the precious few minutes of plan time.
What I have started to do is have teachers use these activities as a “Do Now” or “Exit Ticket”. These shorter activities are easier to manage and don’t take an entire period to facilitate.
Another strategy is to use these shorter breakout activities in the station rotation blended learning model. These shorter self contained activities allow teachers to include breakouts in their instruction without devoting an entire period to the activity. When using breakout activities as a station be sure to include an extra station in case students need more time. This will allow students to continue without preventing other students from continuing.
Create Your Own Physical Kit
Many teachers like the physical Breakout EDU kits because students move around the classroom during the activity which helps to facilitate kinesthetic learning. The physical kits are great but it can be expensive to purchase these kits for your classroom. Many teachers have decided to create their own kits rather than buy the official Breakout EDU physical boxes. Jennifer Reaves a the Ed Tech Team discusses how she created her own breakout kits:
I went to my local Dollar Tree and purchased a locking toolbox, a red bike lock, a green bike lock and a keyed lock. Since it was the end of the year I also snagged a box of cookies to put inside for my kiddos to share once they unlocked the box. Those cookies never tasted so sweet! Total cost $5.
Ideas for Puzzles
If you are interested in creating your own breakout activities there are plenty of resources available to help you get started. The official Breakout EDU website has several links to web tools you can use to create puzzles for your breakout.
Brynn Allison at The Literacy Maven shares tips for using text, articles, video, songs, and other visuals in your breakout. Below are some of my favorites from the site:
You can also create fake emails, fake text message conversations, fake concert tickets or airplane tickets, fake store receipts, fake newspaper articles, or fake, signs, ransom notes, or diplomas.
Monroe #1 BOCES ITS has a great Google Slides presentation that includes examples for creating puzzles.
Breakouts are a great way to teach your students soft skills while reinforcing the key ideas from your lessons and units. There are many free online resources to help you get started facilitating these activities as well as creating your own breakout activities.