Breakout Edu · Latin Club/Junior Classical League

How I Create Breakout Edu Games

The Breakout game we did at GJCL Convention was a hit (I think). We had to limit it to 24 people per session, and when we showed up half an hour before the session to set up, we saw that there were already 24 kids (and apparently they had been there for some time), and they were turning other kids away to keep their spot in line. Awesome!

I had a couple of people ask me if I would send them some info about how to do these games, which is why I am writing this post. A couple of things to keep in mind: I am not a “pro” at this (having only written a few games so far), and there are many things I want/need to improve with this kind of activity.

My step-by-step process of writing a Breakout game is below. If you want to “follow along” with a real game I wrote, here is the Google Drive folder for the game I ran at GJCL Convention. You are welcome to use or adapt this game in any way you want; I took some portions of this game from games published on the Breakout site.

  1. I figure out what I want the theme/story of the game to be. For the game I did at Convention, I was aiming for something that would have mass appeal, so I went with mythology. I am doing a game for my Latin I classes for final exam review, and that one is pretty much just reviewing what we’ve done this year.
    1. If you are teaching novellas or other extended stories, it would be really cool to do a Breakout that not only asks about the story but simulates or extends an aspect of the plot (e.g. to help X character find Y thing that she wants, you must open the box with all the locks on it).
  2. I start a Google Doc and make a list of all the locks and materials I have access to or want to use in the game. Our school library has enough locks and materials for 3 Breakout kits (our librarians are awesome), but I have started putting together my own piece by piece. I will write another post some day about sourcing materials for kits.
    Anyway! We don’t actually have any Breakout-branded kits; all of ours are “open-sourced,” meaning we got them from Amazon and the like. I generally have access to the following:

    1. A “Breakout box” (large box that can fit a hasp on it – I use a metal toolbox in my personal kit similar to this one)
    2. Hasp
    3. Invisible ink and UV flashlight (this is the flashlight I have bought)
    4. 5-letter word lock
    5. 4-digit number lock similar to this
    6. Directional lock
    7. Small 3-digit lock box
    8. I have also bought 3-digit number locks (similar here) for myself; I don’t think (I could be wrong) that these are in our school kits
    9. Key lock
    10. I bought a set of 4 very cheap ($3 each) plastic toolboxes at Walmart that can fit a single lock (not a hasp). I use these in the games too.
  3. I think about what I want each lock to do and where I want it to be. You want a decent number (4 or so) of locks on the hasp, but I also like for them to open at least one other box, like the 3-digit lockbox or the cheap plastic toolbox, in addition to unlocking the hasp. Remember that the more locks you have, the more time the game will take.
    1. I like for the lockbox/toolbox to have the UV light inside it as well as some other goodies they will need for solving further clues. Think QR codes, flash drives, new messages they have to decode, etc.
    2. I also think about the type of information that will be required for students to unlock a lock. Take the directional lock, for example. If you use it, you need to have a clue that involves students finding directions or arrows in some way. You can have students use the UV light to find arrows that are written in a certain order; you can have them find the literal words “left,” “right,” “up,” and “down” as part of a clue; you can do something that requires them to draw arrows or pay attention to the order in which they see something (hard to explain, but the directional lock clue in the Escape the Underworld game linked in this post does this).
  4. I make my games very linear, so I start with “Step One” in the Google Doc. Step One should have everything the students need to get to Step Two. This is the Google Doc I did for Escape the Underworld; go to page 2 to see the steps.
    1. Step One for this game was a little too hard. You want it to be something that students can figure out fairly quickly and that builds their momentum for the rest of the game. You want the right amount of struggle so that when they get to Step Two, they’re excited, but you don’t want them to lose steam.
    2. For the first clue, I like using acrostic poems or messages, but if you play a lot of games with your students, they will figure out it’s your signature move. I’ve had an idea to do a QR code cut up into puzzle pieces as the first clue, but I don’t know if it would scan the same when put back together.
  5. After Step One, I go to Step Two. Well, duh, I know. But what I mean by this is I have to think about how what they solved in Step One will get them to Step Two, then so on. Now that they have solved the puzzle in Step One, what are they going to do with that solution?
    1. I try to get the whole gist of the game down before I go back and really flesh out the clues. If you look at the review game I’m writing for my Latin I students for their final, for example, I don’t have everything hammered out, but I do have an idea of what I want to do with each clue. I will figure out the exact details later.
      Breakout Edu screenshot

Beyond that, there isn’t much to it in the way of planning. I do keep two principles in mind when planning the games, and these have helped me a lot (after some trial and error running other games I got from the Breakout website):

  • Limit the number of “around-the-room” clues. I ran a couple of games from the Breakout site that involved the extensive hiding of flashdrives under objects, writing on posters with invisible ink, etc. These didn’t work as well as other games for a couple of reasons. For one, no matter how much you tell the kids “stay within X physical boundaries,” they are going to be able to see what the other kids are doing, and if one group is running all over their quadrant of the room looking under desks and bookshelves, so will the other kids. It might be fun for them, but it strips the game of its problem-solving nature, especially if they just randomly find something they weren’t meant to find quite yet. (sigh. this happened to me in a recent game, and it kind of ruined the experience.)
    Instead of doing the “hide-the-object” types of clues, I try to use a lot of digital clues: QR codes, tinyurl links, and the like. If you use password-protected options, even better. I also like putting the physical clues inside the 3-digit lockbox or the cheap plastic toolbox – that way you can have them physically manipulate something like a puzzle or a matching set while still requiring them to do the problem-solving to get there.
  • Spread the clues out. By this I mean delay the gratification. Students might find something in Step Two that they can’t even use until Step Five; or even if they somehow get into the Step Three lockbox by some stroke of luck (it will happen), make it so they can’t do anything with the materials inside until they actually solve the puzzle they were supposed to solve or until they get to a later step. Make them think about the collection of materials in front of them, especially the ones they get from opening an envelope, a Padlet link, the lockbox, etc. What can we use right now? What do we need to put aside? The process of determining utility in a group is really powerful for their critical thinking muscles.

For more resources: I think one of the best ideas is to look at some of the games that already exist and either run one of those with your students or adapt the ideas from them (that’s what I do).

Where to find games:

That’s all for now. Later this week, I plan to write a post about clue ideas that I’ve had rattling around in my brain, and then at some point I will write a general info dump of tips for running the games.

Let me know if you have questions!


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