Like any other lesson, I found that starting with the end in mind was really helpful. I set up a scenario that relates to the content we are studying and gives a hint as to what they should be prepared for. For my 4th grade animals unit, it seems as though some animals were stolen from the zoo and locked up in our school while the 5th grade students needed to unlock a petition to stop the use of plastic straws in the school.
Selecting the right part of the unit to do this is also essential. At the start of a unit, students don’t tend to have enough related vocabulary to accomplish the task, but at the end of the unit they are ready to move on to the next topic. Breakout activities are great for re-invigorating the learning and reignites excitement about the topic. Another benefit of doing the breakout mid-unit is that I can recycle material from class to create clues. Whether clips from a movie or an infographic, making a clue of something familiar can keep the clue from being too difficult or frustrating.
One last thing to consider is the amount of time you have to complete the breakout. My classes are 30 minutes long, which really becomes 25 by the time we get settled, I explain the activity and we clean up. I found that splitting the class into teams and having each team complete only one clue. If a team finished early, they were to split up and help the other groups (who were also told to accept the help!)
Before I started creating my own clues, I met with my Technology Integration Specialist, Anna Davis (@AnnaDavisTIS) to learn a more about BreakoutEDU, but also to get a better understanding of what the students had done before. She was able to share some of the other breakouts she did to help give me an idea of what types of clues were possible. I also did some searching and found some great resources from The Comprehensible Classroom and Throw Away Your Textbook. Some ideas I was able to take an adapt to fit my students’ needs and others sparked ideas of my own to get started.
There are many different kinds of locks. Depending on the material you are working with and the age of your learners, some may be better than others. Creating clues for key locks, for example, may be more difficult than having students read an infographic to get the answer for the number lock. Brainstorm as many ideas as possible at first to figure out which lock works for your needs.
Here are some types of clues that are great for young learners:
Matching: Using pictures from a video we used in class, students had to match the Spanish description to the correct picture. One of the pictures was missing information and students had to figure out that the key was hidden based on what was in the final picture.
Rebus: Using familiar pictures, you can create a clue that can be simple or complicated. Using words from the content being studied or as review can be a great way to determine what students remember as well! Just make sure to be consistent with how the words are being created.
Infographic puzzle: Find an infographic or other photo that students may or may not be familiar with. Print the picture and cut it to create a puzzle. Once they have completed the puzzle, have them answer a question to get the number for the lock.
Crack the Code: Create a secret code that students need to crack to solve a puzzle. Highlight one word in the puzzle to signal the word for the lock. Some codes are easier to crack than others! If you think the code will be very difficult, you can always give the students one letter as a hint. For this code, students need to count the number of each animal. The letter associated with the number is the first letter of the animal’s name in Spanish.
Map skills: Students received pictures of different animals trapped in plastic with captions about where they were found. Each picture also had a date on it. Students had to figure out the places on a map and then put the pictures in order to figure out which directions to move the lock.
Matching: Students were given descriptions of animals that live in specific continents. They were to match the description with the animal to figure out the continent and the order of the directions.
Putting it into practice
Once you have everything set up, it is important to determine the difficulty of the clues. Are they all really difficult? Is one way too easy in comparison? You want to have some balance in levels of difficulty as there are many different students in your class.
When grouping students, think about their strengths and weaknesses. Students might surprise you! Clues I thought would be easy or students I thought would struggle turned out to be the opposite. I find that mixing up the students well serves them best for this activity.
You may want to provide a hint card for each group, as well. This allows them some help if they get stuck. While it is fun for them to have to problem solve and work together, it isn’t worth them getting so frustrated that they want to quit!