Tanuki Talk

EFL Escape Rooms - Resources



From a talk I gave last weekend at a conference in Kobe, Japan, I could see that there is a genuine interest in making and implementing Escape Rooms in ESL and EFL classrooms. Next week on this blog I will share my slides, thoughts and puzzles, but for now, here is a list of resources I introduced at the conference that I think can get educators started on creating their own rooms. 






The disruptive media lab's mission statement is to drive innovation in education. They have an extensive article on the steps they recommend educators take to design their own rooms. They present a series of interesting questions that relate to the pedagogy as well as the practicalities of making an effective room. This guides would be designers through the process of making a room. 







Breakout Edu has a series of videos on designing immersive educational experiences that are a must-see for would be designers. Although most of their site's content is behind a paywall, the ideas in these videos are applicable to any escape room designs.





Puzzled Pint is a worldwide, monthly event in which people gather to solve a series of puzzles while enjoying good food and drinks at the host bar. Their site is a goldmine of puzzle ideas. They are pretty difficult, so you'll need to adapt them to be suitable for the classroom. The plus point of these puzzles is that they all designed to be print and play. 






Escape Team is an app that controls the narrative, progression and hints of a paper-based escape room. The app is free, but the puzzles are contained on PDFs. This means you can print multiple copies of the same escape room which allows it to work for classrooms with large numbers of students. Further 'rooms' are purchasable through the app which, again, you can print multiple copies of. You can even design your own puzzle sheets and upload them to the app through their website. 





The best way to get an idea about how to make your own rooms is to play as many as possible. Obviously some people don't live with easy access to escape rooms and the cost can be prohibitive. These out-of-the-box escape rooms are a great alternative. This can give you an idea of how puzzles nest and flow into each other and ideas about what makes a puzzle difficult or easy.

At around $10 - $15 dollars a game, you play multiple of these games for the price of a single live escape room. I recommend the Unlock series as the narrative structure of these games is very strong and many of the puzzles are controlled by a free app. You can try a number of free versions which are downloadable on their website (links below). The Exit series and Journal 29 books are slightly harder overall, but also contain many creative ideas and are well worth a play. If you are thinking of buying these to use directly in the classroom without modification then Unlock is perhaps the best. This is because they are reusable, while the Exit series games can mostly only be played once. For a more detailed review comparing Unlock to Exit check out this review from Shut Up and Sit Down.

Free versions of Unlock:

Tutorial (PDF) (10 minutes, super simple)
5th Avenue (PDF) (30 minutes, easy)
The Elite (ZIP) (60 minutes, normal)

Doo-Arann’s Dungeon (PDF) (30 minutes, easy)
The Temple of Ra (PDF) (60 minutes, hard)


One way I have found to do these in the classroom is too play the first tutorial in the students L1 (many translations available at boardgamegeek) which only takes a few minutes. Once they are on-boarded with the mechanics then it is easy to try the next ones in English only. 


AR Escape  AR Escape



There are a couple of AR escape rooms worth your attention. The imaginatively titled Escape the Room : AR and Scriptum AR Escape Room are both fun experiences with great designs that are built to allow multiple people play them at the same time. I think they are both interesting looks at what we can look forward to even more advanced rooms in the future. 


The great thing about AR escape rooms is that it offers no limit to the type of puzzles and narratives they can explore. There are some exciting things happening between AR and ESL / EFL at the moment and I hope in the future that we can move towards making some truly great escape experiences with well developed learning outcomes deliberately made for the English learning classroom. 








If you want to listen to people discuss the in and outs of escape room design, what works and what doesn't, and how and how not to implement them in the classroom then I recommend either of these two podcasts from Inverse Genius. Games in Schools and Libraries covers a broader range of topics related to games in general but escape rooms are a common topic.






Escape! from Geek and Sundry is a series in which celebrities play escape rooms. Another place to look at to see how fun and creative escape rooms can be, as well as a place to find inspiration for puzzles and themes. 

Finally, I recommend going to http://scottnicholson.com/ for a series of papers on escape rooms and how to use them in educational settings. Educators in fields other than ESL / EFL are doing some very exciting things with the escape room format. This paper in particular on using an escape room to teach computer programming is extremely insightful. 

Wow, what a list! By no means comprehensive, but a lot to go on and more than enough for people to start making their own rooms. I will be sharing my own escape rooms pretty soon and will also be writing about what I think escape rooms need to work in the ESL and EFL classroom (or any classroom). Stay tuned to this blog for more details. Follow me on Twitter and Tanuki Games on Instagram for more updates. If you are an English Language teacher who has designed or is designing similar things then please get in touch or comment. I'd love to know who else is doing what. 








This is part of the ‘Tanuki: Games We Love’ series. This is where we share RPGs, board and card games that we love to use in the classroom, along with lesson plans and adaptations for utilizing the game. We have no affiliation or deals with these companies. These are just games we genuinely think are a worthy addition to your classroom shelves. 




Games We Love : A Shakespearean Fiasco


Fiasco is a storytelling RPG about plans gone wrong. It is an RPG that requires very few resources, no set up time and can be easily explained as it is played. It is also easily adaptable to fit almost any theme. Indeed hundreds of playsets exist that cover everything from superheroes to spies, romcoms to Renaissance Italy. Although most games of Fiasco tend to veer towards a comedic theme within its flexible mechanics lay the possibility for drama, tragedy, farce and everything in-between. 


Many educators have realized that the structure of Fiasco is ideal for use in the classroom to teach a variety of subjects. Teachers have created their own playsets or ‘hacked’ the game to use in their classes. We have to! This is our Shakespearean version of Fiasco that uses location, themes, props and quotes from a wide range of the Bards works to create a playset that is incredible fun as well as a way to get students to discuss some of Shakespeare most famous lines. Even outside the classroom who doesn’t want to spend an evening making up stories while speaking in Ole’ Time-y voices!


Click on the image below and you can download our Shakespeare inspired playset: 



Our Playset




If you have never played Fiasco before or for more resources on how to play check out the makers website at https://bullypulpitgames.com/games/fiasco/

If you would like a more in-depth reviews and explanation check out these articles or videos:

Wired: https://www.wired.com/2011/08/fiasco-an-in-depth-rpg-review/

Father Geek: http://fathergeek.com/fiasco/

Shut Up and Sit Down: https://www.shutupandsitdown.com/rpg-review-fiasco/

Wil Wheaton playing on Geek and Sundry:

To see what is out there in terms of playsets go to http://fiascoplaysets.com/


and other educators turning Shakespeare into an RPG (LARP):  https://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/multimedia/Interactives/artsedge-games/170224-artsedge-games.aspx#ae-games-rpg 









This is part of the ‘Tanuki: Games We Love’ series. This is where we share RPGs, board and card games that we love to use in the classroom, along with lesson plans and adaptations for utilizing the game. We have no affiliation or deals with these companies. These are just games we genuinely think are a worthy addition to your classroom shelves. 


Spring is Here

How about a fun game to play?


Hello everyone,


Because we are looking forward to hanami season as much as you we thought you might like a game to play while taking pictures, enjoying food and sitting on your blue sheets. Here are eight brand new questions all on the theme of spring and hanami. Use them as discussion starters, quiz questions, with the full game or any other way you choose. Click on the picture below to download the PDF. Enjoy!



Download the board here too if you need them:





Yabai : Introducing the Game


Hi there,


Our games are designed with simplicity in mind. Games that can be taught quickly and played multiple times within the same class. When designing the games we often talked about the idea that the games could, if necessary, be taught with almost no teacher talk time at all. However, we understand that our games are being used in many different teaching environments so here is a step by step guide on how to use Yabai as a full lesson plan introducing and pre-teaching everything in a solid scaffolding technique so that even lower level students can play the game. Fun every step of the way!

  • Introduce Supply card (pencil, eraser etc) vocabulary using with fun technique such as memory, go fish or karuta.         


Supply Card


  • Deal any number of cards out to a group of players and present a class card.  Have students then freely place cards with a symbol (the brain, cog or lightbulb) that matches the color on the class card. Do not worrying about the numeric value yet.  Players should draw a new supplies card each time they play one.


Class Card

  • Now present all values on the card as 2 (in other words the value of a strength symbol on a card is 2) and have them attempt to beat the lowest numbers as printed on the class cards.

  • Play open handed (so everyone can see all the cards) until players are more confident.

  • Now introduce the season card aspect of the game by handing out the tutorial card (downloadable):       


Yabai Training

  • This teaches the reading and cross referencing aspect of the game that is important before moving on.  Now players must reach within the designated number range for each colored aspect on the class card before moving on.



Season Card


  • Now introduce the information gap aspect of the game by showing the players the season cards. The players will now only have access to certain information. Players should understand the core mechanics of the game from this point. Begin play open handed and when the players gain enough confidence, switch to playing close handed. This adds to the game as students believe they are leveling up.         


  • Finally, add a 7-minute timer and have the players attempt to pass a certain number of class cards. Soon enough, players will be shouting the name of the game: YABAI! You have done it.

Final Note:  These steps can be skipped or introduced one at a time or all together, depending on the group and player level.  You can use Yabai as a quick 7-10-minute fluency activity or introduce the game, step by step, over a period of several weeks. It is that flexible. 



Printable Lesson Plan:



Great New Word Games for the ESL / EFL Classroom



Word games are an almost perfect fit for the language classroom, but I will say that part of me dies a little when I often see five copies of scrabble or boggle gathering dust in the corner of a teachers room. There are so many word games out there that don’t require people to sit down and memorize dictionaries (I do love Scrabble and Boggle but don’t rate them highly as classroom games). These games test players abilities to use and interpret language rather than simple language knowledge. 


In the past few years it has been heartening to see games like Codenames become a staple of ESL / EFL classrooms (I personally think Duets is the best version) but 2018 was an absolutely brilliant year for new word games. Here are five that I think you should think about adding to your school shelf. 


1. Werewords Deluxe Edition - Bezier Games



Okay, so the first is a cheat. Werewords came out in 2017. However, that version of the game only supported 4 to 10 players. Werewords Deluxe smashed this by now allowing from 2 - 20 players. Perfect for a large class or a private lesson. 


Werewords twists the classic 20 questions game by adding a social deduction element. Players have to guess a word by asking “Yes” or “No” questions. However, one player already knows what that word is. This player is the “Werewolf”.  If, at the end of the game, players have guessed the word and identified the werewolf then they win.  The werewolf wins if the word is guessed and they remain undetected. Simple, but there are also other roles with special powers that make sure that each game is exciting and different. 


The game also has a free app that gives you the words to be guessed. You can select different levels of vocabulary based on your class level. 


I would also recommend Insider from Oink Games in 2016, it is a Japanese / English Bi-Lingual version of the game that follows basically the same formula but is more simple overall.


2. Decrypto - Asmodee




In my opinion, Decrypto is the latest challenger for Codenames crown. Played in teams, players are trying to guess which number different hidden words corresponds with on their team while also trying to interpret the hints that the other team is giving each other to decrypt their code. 


For example, if one team needs to indicate the number 2 which is represented by the word ‘crocodile’ then they might say ‘lizard’, ‘green’ and ‘water’ over a series of rounds. However, if the other team works out that these words all refer to the same thing, and therefore the same number then they will win. 


It is a really intense and fun game. Giving good hints takes a lot of thinking to balance communicating effectively and also not giving too much away to the other team. It is definitely one of those games, like Codenames, that is perhaps a little tricky to explain at first but after one play people totally get. 


3. Trapwords - Czech Games Edition




Played Taboo? The game where your partners have to guess a word like ‘school’ by listening to your definition, but you have a list of words you cannot say like ‘student’, ‘teacher’, ‘class’ etc? 


Yes? Well, in Trapwords you get to decide what another team cannot say. Also, they don’t know what they cannot say. They have to describe their word while also avoiding the words you have set as traps. What if someone on the other team has to guess ‘school’ but one of your “trap words” is ‘white board’ and they say it? Then they lose. 


It is very simple to teach and play, although I ended up making my own deck of cards to play with (will share soon) because I found the cards in the box a bit too esoteric for my students. Having said that,  Chech Games are they people behind Codenames and I think they have made another instant classic with Trapwords. 


4. Out of the Loop - Tasty Rook


Out of the Loop


Out of the Loop is an App from Tasty Rook who also made one of my favorite ever social deduction games, Triple Agent. It is a free app (with some in app purchases) that only needs to be downloaded on one device to be played with up to 9 players. 


In the game, everyone will get a turn to look at the phone and see a word like ‘Pizza’. They will then take turns asking each other questions like ‘Would you eat this for breakfast?’. The game is that one person has no idea what the word is. If the other players can identify who this person is then they win. However, if the person who doesn’t know the word can guess what the word is then they can still win. 


It is really fun and challenging because you have to give a good answer so that people know that you know the word, but you also cannot give to much detail because then the word can be guessed. The game is also really easy to set up as all the instructions are presented as you play.  


5. Affinity - Game Flow




Okay, another cheat as this one is still, as of writing, only available in French. Hopefully, an English version will be distributed soon, but until then let me wet your appetite. 


This is a group co-op game in which people have to guess each others emotions. To do this one player takes a secret emotion card which will indicate something like ‘Happy’. That player then has to construct a sentence using a small selection of beginning, middle and end cards that conveys that emotion. If the other players successfully guess the emotion then everyone scores a point. 


I made my own quick version of this in English on index cards and changed a few of the rules around to fit the classroom (putting people in pairs and giving more time to study cards) and it ended up working really well. I am looking forward to grabbing an English copy. 


I highly recommend checking out the rules and videos on these games to see which you think would work in your classroom. Over the next few months I will be sharing some resources and lesson plans I have made for each game. I will also be talking about a few games I am excited about for 2019!




Note: Tanuki Games is not affiliated with any of these companies and has and will not receive any financial compensation for recommending them. These are just are heartfelt recommendations for some games we really enjoyed.