The Agatha Christie Experience
Based on Gamification, SEL and 21st century skills the proposal today is a Breakout Educational Experience for upper-intermediate students, as a follow-up class activity to extensive reading comprehension tasks.
SOME INFORMATION ON BREAKOUT EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES
Both Breakout Edu and Escape Room activities share similar elements and dynamics. They are activities where a challenge has been set up for participants to overcome collaboratively. Nicholson, S. (2015) Peeking behind the locked door. A survey of escape room facilities talks about team-work based games where participants solve puzzles (challenges), uncover hints and complete tasks in order to get to the final objective within set time limits. The difference being that in escape room activities the participants themselves will be locked into a room and will need to unlock doors to literally “escape” by solving puzzles and enigmas, whereas there are no locked venues in breakout educational activities but boxes instead, which participants will need to unlock to get hidden hints for the following stage or stages.
The ideal group number is two, so that all players can well participate in the activity. Number of participants per group is not recommended to be higher than five so they can properly engage into solving their tasks collaboratively and co-operate to get through difficult mazes. Three main components are required for setting up our Breakout Educational activity: the rules, the group dynamics, and finally the tools and resources we would like to use to design our activity.
To set up the activity teachers must give some deep thought to the rules and the important role of the gamemaster. Rules must be crystal clear before the activity begins. We can choose to limit participants usage of L1 by reducing their time limit to complete their tasks if they use their mother tongue, or we can let students ask for “language cards” support that allow them short time spans for planning and discussing in non-target language. When setting up the rules we can include narratives that tell the story of the whole activity.
Finally, the not-to-be-forgotten role of the game master whose job is “to ensure that the players have a fair experience, that the physical puzzles function as planned, and in most cases, provide help to players when they are stuck or frustrated” (Nicholson, 2015). An empathetic game master would actually be aware of issues arising within the group and offer help when needed, in fact, this help will be offered in various forms also to be clearly defined at first. The participants may be given a note or a flash card, for example, or perhaps the game master will mime or whisper something to their ears so participants from the other group can’t hear a thing!
The theme of the breakout experience is also of utter importance as it will determine the type of puzzles and red-herrings, rewards, fictional and/or non-fictional characters, atrezzo, the story behind the challenges, the group dynamics, location and venues, etc., and last but not least, the syllabus contents, objectives and competences that we would like to focus on.
The art of storytelling is yet again a key skill to present the activity as the more emotionally engaging and gratifying the experience the more focused and actively motivated the participants. Like Csikszentmihalyi (2004) defines the notion of flow: “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work”.
Amongst all the possibilities for breakout experience themes and narratives – thriller and fantasy, science and labs, future and technology, cartoon characters, etc (Nicholson, 2015) – given that ours would be an ESL breakout activity I would highlight either traditional customs and celebrations such as American Halloween, Irish St.Patrick’s or Canadian Thanksgiving; or a Victorian steampunk setting like a Sherlockian experience. Not to mention, short stories revolving around the fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple as it is our case today.
You may want to ask your students to pick up one of these Agatha Christie short stories (Collins readers), by whom computer experts from Silicon Valley inspired to create the very first “escape room activities” in 2006 when they were setting programs in most enigmatic shapes. In our class group we have picked up The Body in the Library (B1) as the narrative for this activity begins with the English teacher gone missing, last time seen at the library.
The atmosphere and ambience around the activity will enhance the experience so let everyone’s creativity and imagination fly and get into the mood by perhaps inviting students (and yourself!) to dress up like the character/s from the novel or bringing in objects that are relevant to the story.
The activity itself has highly educational benefits, Cordero, C. (2018) Escape room educativo, Ágora abierta, to name only a few, encourage students into action, learn by doing, immerse into language, develop imagination, solve problems, normalise technology, put the focus on the students, promote group cohesion, learn to think, or the proposal of alternative innovative educational experiences.
My Work by María-Teresa Roura-Vivas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.