Planning and Creating My First Digital Breakout Activity: Previewing The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

April 28, 2017

The timer is ticking. Will your students be able to escape? Breakouts are a great way to make content interactive and encourage collaboration among students. Learn more about breakout activities, also known as Escape Room games, and how I planned and created my first digital breakout for previewing The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.
Right now I teach intervention ELA classes to small groups of seventh and eighth graders. The class is a mix of supporting them with reading and writing assignments in their regular ELA class and providing additional instruction and practice in weak skill areas.

This year our standardized state testing schedule was extremely spread out because our spring break fell right in the middle of it. Since students were wiped from a morning of testing and our schedule was all mixed up after testing is finished, I thought it would be the perfect time to try out a Breakout EDU.

What is a Breakout?
A breakout is a scavenger hunt-like game where players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open a locked box. Breakouts can be done hands-on with physical locked boxes or digitally using a Google Form.

Why Use Breakouts?
1. Breakouts shift the ownership of learning from the teacher to the student.
2. In addition to the content knowledge needed to succeed in a specific game, breakouts require critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.
3. A breakout provides learners with many opportunities to fail and try again. Every unsuccessful attempt to open a lock forces students to reexamine their information and their thinking.

Why Use Digital Breakouts?

A digital breakout requires no preparation of materials, no time spent setting up, and no purchase of a Breakout EDU kit.

Getting Started With Breakouts
It's free to join the Breakout EDU site and access any of the pre-made games. Some of the games have been vetted by the site, while others are in the "Sandbox" because they haven't been checked out yet (scroll all the way down on the Games page to see the Sandbox). There's a separate listing of digital breakouts, but any physical breakout can be tweaked and turned into a digital breakout. The breakout kits of boxes, locks, etc. are available for purchase here for $125, but many people also buy their own materials to create their own kits. For even more breakouts, you can join the Breakout EDU Facebook group as well as specific Facebook groups for each subject area.

I don't have a kit yet, so my first breakouts were digital. My seventh grade students were almost finished reading The Giver and I found a breakout for the book that another teacher shared in the Breakout EDU English Teachers Facebook group. Feeling inspired, I then created a breakout for previewing The Outsiders, the novel my eighth grade students were about to start reading.

Planning My First Breakout
Since my breakout was topic-based (rather than skill-based), I first thought about the information related to the topic with which I wanted students to interact. I came up with:
1. S. E. Hinton's letter to fans so students would understand her motivation for writing the book
2. The original movie trailer so students could visualize the characters and time period (plus see the star stacked cast!)
3. Videos of music from the time period, specifically Elvis and The Beatles to represent the Greasers and the Socials
4. Articles about important cultural influences on the book, such as drive in movies and the Vietnam War
5. Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay"
6. S. E. Hinton's birthplace, Tulsa, Oklahoma, which served as the setting of the novel

Once I had all of the articles, videos, text, etc. that I wanted students to interact with, I had to plant clues that would lead students to another piece of information or decide on a code students would use to open a lock. Since I didn't have a physical breakout kit, my "locks" were in a Google Form. Students would have to enter the correct code to unlock each part of the form. This video shows you how to set up the form.

Creating a Digital Breakout
Using Google Sites, which is free for anyone with a Gmail account, I started to put everything together. First I put an image in the header of the site. Then I added text to the header and linked that text to the letter from S. E. Hinton. In that letter, I put certain text in bold and blue to spell out a shortened URL (I used bit.ly to shorten and customize the link). That URL led students to the original movie trailer for The Outsiders. The run time on that trailer was the code for one of the locks.

Back on the main page of the site, I put a text box with a brief introduction to the novel and the time period in which it is set. This provided the "story," or the purpose for the students to solve the locks.
Beneath the text box, I placed six images, each of which I linked to a video, article, poem, etc. In each of these clues, students might be looking for a code (a series of numbers or a word), listening for a code, or answering questions to spell out a code (I don't want to spell out too much here in case a student stumbles across this post).

At the bottom the site, I embedded the Google Form with the "locks." To finish, I published my site, but didn't make it public because I didn't want students to be able to search and find it outside of school.

When I came time to play the actual breakout, I let students to work alone or in groups of two or three. I allowed each student to have a Chromebook and left it up to them to decide how they would approach the breakout. Other than pointing out the form and explaining that the site contained all the information they would need to find the codes for the locks, I gave very little directions. I then set the timer and set them off to work.

Since this was my students' first breakout, I walked around the room as they worked, encouraging them, asking them what they noticed or how they thought a piece of information would help them. In the physical breakout kit, there are hint cards, but I built my hints into my form (this video shows you how). It took my students about forty five minutes to an hour to solve. Because we worked over a period of two classes, I had students write down the codes they figured our since the form will not save them.

Good luck planning and creating your own breakout! You can find all of my breakout resources here. I'm also happy to take requests or collaborate on creating one; just send me an email.

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