Digital Breakouts

What is a Digital Breakout

The first thing you should know about digital breakouts is that no two of them look the same. There isn't a "right" way or a "wrong" way to create them, and you can use a MULTITUDE of different tools in their creation. Why make a breakout? This is a good way to get students collaborating and using critical thinking skills in class while slipping them some knowledge along the way.

Basically, you are giving students a series of digital locks (generally 4-6) and the students have to figure out the codes to open those locks. A digital lock opens when specific text or numbers are entered. The text could be a word, or it could be letters that represents colors, directions, or even shapes. For example, in a color lock, students could enter the letter R for red, B for blue, etc.

What subjects can use breakouts?

Breakouts work in ANY subject. We have used them this year in all the core subject areas plus forensic science, ballet, foreign language classes and more!

How do I start?

As with any other lesson, you start with your objectives. What do I want students to be able to do? And you need to be SPECIFIC! For example, if I said that students need to know quadratic functions, that is much too broad. Narrow that down to "students should be able to graph quadratic functions" and you have a way to create a clue. If you have very specific objectives, each one could generate a clue. You could do a breakout that covers quadratics as a whole, and maybe one clue forces the students to graph them, one clue forces the students to write equations for them, and one clue makes the students evaluate the equation to decide which direction the parabola opens.

Once you have narrowed down your objectives, create your clues. Any web tool can be used for this, but I always start with Google Tools. You can check out this list for some fun ideas as well.

After you create your clues, you need to figure out how to present them. There is a usually a reason that students need to complete the breakout. Without that element you are just doing interactive stations. Maybe there was a zombie outbreak and the students are fighting the clock to find a cure. Or maybe they are locked in the school right before spring break and they are trying to get out so they can make their flight to Hawaii.

Next decide if you want to hide your clues. Some people make this part extremely straightforward. They will tell them exactly which puzzle goes to which lock, and they don't hide or disguise the links at all. Personally, I think that takes the fun out of it! What makes this experience unique is hunting for the clues!

Finally, build your breakout. Google sites is a popular platform on which to create the breakout, but you can also use Weebly,, Wix, or the Breakout EDU online version if you have a subscription.

Big picture

What do Kids think? Any advice?

Overall, students enjoy taking part in breakouts. I always ask for feedback, and I get overwhelmingly positive responses. Here are some things I have learned along the way.

  • Some kids REALLY don't want to think. There is some frustration associated with being challenged like this and not everyone likes that.
  • Give hints. Develop a system for giving students hints- allow them 2 or 3 free hints and then penalize them (a little bit) somehow after that. You don't want to walk them through it but you don't want them to sit there stuck forever either.


I have seen teachers use several different methods for grading breakouts. Here are some that I have found to be most successful:

  • Create on of the clues so that it creates a new copy of a google doc/slides/sheet for each student. Have them submit this activity through classroom at the end of the class.
  • All students start with a 100 daily grade, students lose 5 points for each hint they use (*note- this is a horrible idea with advanced kids who are unwilling to give up any points on their grade. You might give a couple free hints before charging them points)
  • Make it an extra credit grade for students who escape

Implementing the Breakout

Every student needs a computer. If you make them share, at least one kid will have nothing to do. If they each have their own, they could split up the work but everyone is working.

Have students work in teams. People's brains do not work the same way. For digital breakouts, partners or groups of 3 is best, depending on how difficult it is to find the clues. I do not recommend students working individually on these.

Give them an introduction. Explain how the locks work. Explain the idea of the breakout. Explain how hints work. Let them know how they will be graded. Tell them not to cheat.

Walk around as they are working to see what they are doing. This will help them stay on task and will help you know where they are and what they have done so far. That will help you give better hints as well.