History and Digital Breakouts

My 7th grade class recently wrapped up the Crusades Quest with a mini-simulation and a blog post. I started this Quest by dressing up as a King, reading Pope Urban’s message, and leading the learners on a Crusade. Next they researched how many miles their home was from Jerusalem, researched a Crusade, and finally chose their fate out of a bag. This was a new twist on learning the Crusades and the learners were engaged through the process. Usually, when the Crusades lesson finishes, I like to wrap everything up with a mini-lesson on Islam.

I racked my brain for an idea on how to teach my mini-lesson on Islam. This year I ditched my textbook, I’m avoiding using worksheets, and avoiding guided notes with lectures. Recently, I discovered digital breakouts and thought this would be a great opportunity to use one.

At first, digital breakouts looked confusing. The Google Form where you type the code, the links to different sources, the hints for codes – this looked like too much. So, I tried my first digital breakout at home one evening. (I tried out this great breakout on the War of 1812) All I needed to do was roll my sleeves up and get involved with the process.

Back to my mini-lesson Islam……..a former students and myself designed the first digital breakout for Islam. This is how we designed my Islamic Breakout……

Start with the end in mindWhat do you want the learners to know by the end of the breakout? For me, at the end of the day, I wanted the students to learn some basic facts about Islam (as it is one of the misunderstood religions in the world).

The other part to this is adding materials to the breakout – puzzles, videos, sources, etc. I wanted to provide a variety of sources to my students. In my breakout, I started with a video about the beginnings of Islam. Next I added a primary source that learners had to analyze how Islam spread. Then, my former student created a puzzle with basic questions about Islam. Students had to research, and answer questions correctly to discover a clue. Lastly, I created a puzzle game about the 5 pillars of Islam that learners had to research as a group. Variety is key to keep engagement and critical thinking consistent throughout the breakout. 

Create a story for your breakoutI decided a great story for my breakout would be one that connected to the Crusades. Here is the story I came up with: “The Crusades are over! However, it was a big failure and you never reclaimed the Holy Land of Jerusalem. If anything good came of this long Crusade effort, it was the fact that you came into contact with Muslims. The Muslims shared many new ideas with you – new foods (cinnamon, coffee), new technologies, new maps, new clothes, etc. You cannot wait to get back home to Europe to share your new findings with your family. But, before you leave Jerusalem, you must learn about Islam. Visit the 4 stops to learn more about Islam and figure out the 4 codes – you have 45 minutes!” For me, this story worked as it connected the content to a past lesson and created some intrigue among the learners.

Create CodesOnce I had an end in mind, a variety of sources, and a story to peak interest, it was time to create codes. Codes were set up in a Google Form (as you will see here). I wanted find a balance between easy and tricky codes so students could work through the breakout in a timely manner. For each code, I added a hint to help the students. Plus, I created codes that forced the students to focus on the sources. To add a new element to my breakout, a lockbox was added. When the learners solved all codes, the Google Form would switch to a new section and tell the code to the lockbox. 

In the end, Reflect, Reflect, ReflectWhen a breakout finishes, it’s essential to reflect. Find out what the students know and/or don’t know. This could easily be done with Quizlet Live, Quizizz, creating a “3 takeaways” question on Google Classroom, one word note card, etc.. Reflecting is essential for learners to thinking about their learning and creating a culture of growth mindset. Finally, reflecting is a great way to help teachers drive their teaching.

My takeaways and reflection: I was completely impressed by the engagement and excitement from the learners during my first breakout. It was something new to learn about Islam. There was no lecture, no worksheet, or no textbook. If anything, I took what would have been a lecture or worksheet and “gamified” it. Here is the example the Islamic Breakout – click here.

What do I like about Breakouts?

  1. They have learners collaborate.
  2. They have learners communicate.
  3. The have learners take on leadership roles.
  4. They have the learners think critically.
  5. They help create a growth mindset as students work through tough situations. 
  6. Breakouts can be adapted in so many ways for every subject! Here is a link to a great site featuring digital breakouts, featuring multiple subjects.


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