How to Integrate Art and History into a Student-Led BreakOut Project


Brainstorming the BreakOut project

Our 10th grade Dominican history teachers, Lorena and Maguie, recently taught a trimester-long unit on prehistoric humans. As a culminating project, the teachers had originally planned to have students create a museum of “artifacts” and information to share with other classes. But as they like to put the learning in the hands of their students, they presented the idea to their classes, to get their input. The students decided they wanted to do something more interactive. So, Lorena and Maguie stepped back and let them take over. What would have been a nice culminating project turned into an incredibly engaging student-led learning experience that incorporated art, technology, and history into an interactive BreakOut project.

On the day the BreakOut launched I was excited to see how it turned out. At the entrance of the classroom I found a group of 5th grade students digging through sand, looking for artifacts. Inside, 10th grade students with flashlights on their hats, were leading 5th grade students through a cave made of recycled brown paper (that teachers use for creating anchor charts). Some kids were busy playing a Minecraft game about the prehistoric way of life, while others used clues to place different hominids on a map of human migration. At thirteen different stations, elementary students searched for clues to break out of the room. 

Not only was this an extremely engaging activity, but students had voice and choice, honed their teamwork skills and deepened their learning through cross-curricular connections and problem solving.

Voice and Choice

All the activities required the integration of historical research and art work.

After brainstorming ideas for their project, the students finally decided they wanted to create a BreakOut experience for the 5th and 6th graders (for those that don’t know this is an activity where students solve clues to open a locked box, similar to popular escape rooms). In order to do this, they formed small groups. Each group would be in charge of creating an interactive activity, some of which would give the younger students one of the clues necessary to open a final puzzle box and “escape.”

The class worked together to come up with a list of possible activities they could include in their game, along with different types of clues. Students then chose to work in the areas that most interested them and began working within their groups to create the artwork and clues that would go with them.

Students worked in art class to create some of the activities


Throughout this unit, our art teacher, Kilia, collaborated with Maguie and Lorena to design an integrated learning experience, allowing students to make deep connections and strengthen critical thinking skills. During art class and in their history classes, students worked on constructing their breakout activities. In order to create pre-historic artwork, artifacts, timelines, maps, and tools, students not only had to do historical research, but they also had to implement new art techniques.


Because students were working on a hands-on activity that they came up with and that they were excited about producing, they were all highly motivated and engaged. It was exciting to see them in “flow,” coming up with ideas, facing problems, and working together to find solutions. 

Teamwork and leadership

Rough draft of the room design

Students worked in their small groups, but also came together to solve problems they faced. Sometimes they worked together to brainstorm ideas for clues that would be at the level of 10-year-old children. They also needed to design a floor plan for the breakout classroom; one where 15 to 30 kids could easily move around and work on puzzles. With so many activities, this proved to be challenging, and they realized that they would have to be flexible and make changes as the project developed. Some students naturally took the lead in areas of their strength. 


Once the day came for the actual BreakOut experience, our elementary students were invited in. They took part in an archaeological dig, played Kahoot and Minecraft, solved puzzles, and crawled through a cave while learning about prehistoric humans from the 10th grade guides.

Students began by finding artifacts in an archaeological dig. Clues were hidden among items like representations of a megalithic monument, tools, homes, and musical instruments.

Evolution of Man: life-size representations of hominids. (The representation of Homo sapiens simply asked students to look in the mirror.)

Using recycled paper, students created a cave filled with artwork representing cave paintings from different countries and time periods.

Interactive map: students used clues to place the hominids, then followed their migration trails with a black light (and discovered a hidden BreakOut clue).

The Final Project:

Overall, this was an incredible experience for our 5th and 6th graders to BREAK OUT — and for our 10th graders to see how these students reacted to their game. 

I loved seeing the integration of art and historical research in this project. Students not only brainstormed ideas and designed the activity, but they were able to choose drawing, painting, sculpture, or digital art to express their learning. This weaving of art into academics allowed students to use their strengths to show their learning, developing their creativity and self-confidence while increasing engagement.




  1. “Because students were working on a hands-on activity that they came up with and that they were excited about producing, they were all highly motivated and engaged.” YES!!

    Congratulations and thanks to the teachers who let their students lead despite their already-planned plan! And thank YOU for sharing; it has to inspire more teachers and more administrators to do the same!

  2. I love everything about this project.
    Well done!

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