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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Build an Escape Room by Michelle Biwer

tpibEscape rooms and breakout rooms are a buzzworthy program in librarian world of late. I tried building my first escape room in the fall, and recently finished my second one! Here is my strategy:

Steps for Building an Escape Room

1. Pick a general theme! Murder Mystery? Based on a book? Science?

2. Who is your audience?

How many people are you expecting? How many people do you want to be able to go through the room at once? What kinds of stories might interest them? What is the age range? All of these factors will affect what choices you make when you design your escape room game.

Because I want to maximize participation I do not make teens sign up in advance for escape room events. I just block out a 2 hour chunk of time where I can run the game as many times as I need to. I also design my escape rooms to be adaptable so that they can be played by varying numbers of players in different time limits.

3. Storytime: Why are people locked in a room?

How can they escape? Is escaping their only goal? This part is important,  as when I was fielding suggestions from teens they had awesome ideas like “build the trash compactor from Star Wars.” But it doesn’t make a ton of sense that they would have to unravel clues in that situation. We ended up going with the room being an abandoned spaceship and their goal was to escape AND to get the coordinates for their destination.

4. Think about design.

What space are you going to use? A conference room or the whole library? What materials do you need to turn your library or conference room into this place? A coworker and I recently put together a box of supplies for escape room programs that will be shared systemwide. The most important material is different colors of masking tape! It is amazing what teens can design with just tape. There are also props for mystery and sci-fi theming in the box

5. Time to build the set!

Don’t worry about the clues at this point. Just give your TAB teens or volunteers all of the decorating supplies, tell them the theme and what the room is supposed to be, and set them loose. Anything they think up will be cooler than what you could make on your own.

6. Plan the clues, then plant the clues.

Base this on your answer to the story question. For inspiration look at Breakout EDU’s example games. It can be as simple as hiding keys and lock combos in various places. It can also be as complicated as hiding clues in VR environments, in Minecraft, or having multiple goals in order to escape the room. I recommend doing this after the space is decorated because you will have a better sense of where you can hide things, plus the decorators can still participate in the program because they don’t know what the clues are.

7. Write everything down!

If you get more than a few teens for your program you will want to run the escape room multiple times so having a record of where everything is hidden and what clues lead where is important! You can adapt Breakout EDU’s brainstorming worksheet for this purpose.

Here is my chart from my latest escape room:

Theme: Star Wars

Story: You are a team of rebels assigned to a mission on the planet Tatooine. Your mission has gone awry and Stormtroopers are chasing after you. You have found this abandoned rebel ship. To escape on this ship from Tatooine you must:

  1. Find location of closest rebel base.
  2. Find launch codes for primary, secondary, and tertiary control panels.
Purpose What Will They Do With It? Where Will it Lead?
Mini Safe with Combo(on top of utility shelf) Conceal location of closet rebel base Open it-(password hidden under random chair in room) Location of Yavin 4, closest rebel base (on flash drive)
Numeric Lock 1 Lock up box Open box-(key hidden underneath red lightsaber) Secondary systems control launch code
Numeric Lock 2 Lock up box Open box-(key inside Darth helmet) Primary systems control launch code
Alpha Lock 1 Lock up kitchen cabinet Unlock-Password hidden under safe (password set to DOAY, anagram of Yoda) Tertiary systems control launch code

See Also:

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program

TPiB: Escape Room The Game, a review

All About Escape Rooms | School Library Journal

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