As it was a new book to our students, I needed a way to get them familiar with the story and prepare them for Jo’s visit. Using the inspiration of the clue trail that the main character, Cricket, follows throughout the adventure-filled book, I turned to BreakoutEDU to mirror solving mysteries in the library! Jo’s visit came smack dab in the middle of our book fair (which we host locally with Downtown Books in Manteo, who coordinated this author visit!) - thus, the name of this breakout was:
Smack dab in the middle of the book fair!
To build buy-in, students need to have a “story,” or scenario, that explains the situation and the challenge. Lucky for me, I met Jo at the NC School Library Media Association conference in October 2018, weeks before she came to our school! We had a chance to chat and she offered to help me create this lead in video - however it can be done in any way that works with your objective: pre-made video, a read aloud (from a book, or something you write yourself), a slideshow introduction… so many possibilities!
Step 2: Outline the parameters
- Will your students select their groups or be designated by you?
- Will they have ALL the clues at once, or will you sequence them somehow?
- Explaining how the locks and boxes work, if this is their first time doing a breakout
- How much time will they have to complete the mission?
- What’s the reward for getting the box unlocked? (maybe they “unlocked” a new skill? Maybe you hide some treats!)
Step 3: Let them Breakout!
One of the most amazing parts of the book is the magical bird room that comes to life at the Magic Hour. Since this is terminology students might not be familiar with, clue 1 was set up to make a connection with sunset. The 3 digit lock served as the barrier between students and a tool that would help them solve clue 2 so they were given a picture of sunset (taken by me) and the objective of determining what the magic hour (translated to be sunset for this activity) would be for that evening. On the back of the photo was a chart of sunrise and sunset for the week for Manteo, NC (where our school is located). Students were not prompted to search for this, but rather, left to be resourceful and find this on their own! It’s very hard to not give them a directive… but so important as they develop communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills to be successful in this activity (and so much more!). If they were taking awhile, I eventually suggested they look at ALL SIDES of the tools given, and that led them to what they needed!
*Lock was shifted daily to reflect the corresponding time of sunset - that was it was accurate and changed enough that classes couldn’t give too many hints to kids visiting the library later in the week!
Here’s where I took some creative liberties with the Breakout! Cricket doesn’t actually visit a book fair in the story, nor do we know which books she would purchase if she did stop by ours, but I tried to choose titles students would be familiar with, along with books and items that might help Cricket in her adventure.
Cricket is extremely resourceful, and able to navigate the woods independently. Jo includes many great outdoorsy activities on her website, so there were many possibilities for including a map adventure. As this was an introduction to the directional lock for my students, I kept it easy and had them draw on the laminated map of our book fair (created in Google Slides) to determine the direction (or arrows) that would take them from the first table, through the last. Even though I believed it to be straightforward, at this stage, their thinking caps were on so many tried to use the list from Clue #2 to determine the path she’s take… or they wandered the library to see if clues were hidden based on the map! A little coaching to focus on what they had at the table and even drawing the first arrow for some was needed.
Clue 4: But can you remember…
The last lock was a bit of a trick! I carried the key in my pocket, forcing them to check in with me before opening the box! I asked them a question specific to the activity and book that reiterated something important for them to remember, such as, “what’s the name of the author who wrote Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe?” or “Who’s the main character?” These answers are often right in front of them with all the clues spread across the table, and “cheating” was encouraged - “use your resources!” I’d urge!
Once unlocked, students received their book fair reminder bookmark that was waiting in the box, along with some treasures! If time allowed, I snapped a victory photo of each group and shared with their teacher as well.
Students left our lesson prepared both for the upcoming book fair, and to have a deeper appreciation for our author visit with Jo Watson Hackl! They also ask regularly when our next BreakoutEDU challenge will be waiting for them in the library!
- Breakout scenarios can be altered and created from scratch - you aren’t stuck using the scenario that worked for someone else’s objectives!
- Clues, box contents, locks will need to be prepare before students arrive!
- Give yourself a couple days to prepare, do a trial run with the clues and locks, and set a realistic time for completion (my students had 25 minutes and it was rushed)
If you'd like to use any of these resources, my Google slides are here.
Jo's visit was so memorable!
We are to blessed to have a local independent bookstore, Downtown Books, that invests so much in our community. Jamie has orchestrated author visits in all Dare County Schools, hosts a local book fair in our 6 of the schools, provides affordable school-wide read selections, offers an educators discount in-store, among countless other things! I can't recommend enough how beneficial it is to partner with your local bookstore!