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Breakout EDU Gamified Learning Teaching Strategies

Janelle Cox

The escape room – a social activity that locks a team into a room until they complete puzzles to unlock themselves – is starting to take on its own form in classrooms. No, students aren’t trying to break out of classrooms and escape school. Rather, students are being encouraged by their teachers to use their wits, collaboration, and grit to break into a locked box. This is called Breakout EDU, and it’s part of the gamified learning teaching strategies emerging in classrooms everywhere. Students are divided into teams and presented with a box with one or more locks on it. After solving a variety of clues and challenges, they will discover keys and codes they can use to unlock the box. On the surface, a breakout game or other teaching strategies may seem like a trendy diversion useful for entertaining students on a rainy day. But it is much, much more than that. There are a wide range of uses and benefits breakout games and teaching strategies can yield, making it a must-try for your classroom.

The Benefits of the Breakout Teaching Strategies

A Breakout EDU experience with your class is the perfect collaborative, kinesthetic activity that reinforces learning. Yes, it is a game; but like many games, it provides an immersive experience all students can benefit from.

First, consider the “Four C’s” of learning: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. While various activities might encourage one of these at a time, the breakout experience heavily encompasses all four. Students must work together, thinking critically and creatively, to complete each challenge.

Beyond these four C’s, Breakout EDUs add a fifth: They reinforce “Content.” The breakout experience does not have to involve random clues or themes (although “Just for fun” options do exist). 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. You can make your own, or offers dozens of pre-made options to choose from.

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Another huge perk of the Breakout experience is that, like many games, students “Fail forward” and develop their perseverance. Teams that don’t figure out each puzzle on their first try are rewarded when they learn from their missteps, reconsider their approach, and try again. Learning isn’t an all-or-nothing event, but rather an ongoing process that students refine as they work toward their goal.

Finally, the Breakout isn’t just another ordinary lesson; it’s an experience. This is the kind of activity students will enjoy while it’s taking place and remember later on. Best of all, it’s these sort so of multisensory collaborative activities that effectively create memories, encoding the learning experience in a way students are more likely to recall later on.

How a Breakout Works

Let me walk you through how a typical Breakout EDU session might work.

Beforehand, the facilitator has organized materials – including hidden keys, secret codes and combinations, and appropriate puzzles or mystery items – to help each team unlock their box. As teams progress through the challenge, they will use the initial challenge clues to lead them through the progression of puzzles to unlock the box.

When it’s time to play, students are divided into teams and each team is presented a box with one or more locks on it. They are also presented with a Breakout challenge – the story and initial set of starter clues to get each team going.

When the rules have been explained and each team is ready to go, the facilitator starts a timer so each team can race against the clock. Teams work together to progress through the pre-arranged challenges until they successfully unlock the box or time runs out.

So what might a given challenge look like? The answer is entirely dependent on you and what you want your students to focus on. One puzzle might be to offer a crossword puzzle in which several of the letters in the crossword are circled. Once the team solves the crossword puzzle, they must unscramble the circled letters to reveal the location of one of the keys. Another challenge might be to read a poem and decipher the object/person the poem is talking about, find the object/people on specific pages in the yearbook, and discover further clues on those specific yearbook pages. Still another challenge might involve students using a UV flashlight to discover the “Secret writing” that instructs students what to do with different math solutions they’ve found to obtain the combination to one of the locks.

Once students complete the puzzles and unlock the box, a prize of one form or another is awarded. The prizes may vary depending on your class, the game’s story, and your overall goal. Some prizes might be candy, a new book, a school supply, or even just a “Success” sign teams can hold up and cherish.

The challenges, design, and complexity of your breakout activity are limited only by your creativity. To help you get started, Breakout EDU offers a handy Google Doc brainstorm sheet, or you can check out the pre-made game options for an idea of what each unique game consists of.

Worth a Try

Since the Breakout EDU activity offers such a unique and beneficial experience, why not give it a try? On the one hand, it does take time and money to procure the boxes, organize a game, and give students time to complete one. On the other hand, that might just be time and money well spent when it leads to unique, memorable, and effective outcomes for our students.

So here’s my challenge to you: Try the Breakout EDU challenge once with your class. If it doesn’t lead to the desired results, you’re under no obligation to do it any more. If it does work, then you might have just cracked into the type of activity you can utilize again and again to help students reach that level of mastery and collaboration you’ve been searching for.

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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