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Engaging Reluctant Readers with a Digital Adventure Game

We know that our reluctant readers have a skills deficit that grows over time. Whereas a student may be just one grade level behind in elementary school, that gap can grow if we don’t address the problem. By high school, a student who can’t read at grade level faces significant difficulties across content areas. Moreover, it becomes challenging to find age-appropriate texts to support that student’s progress. But, fear not! We’re going to work together to improve student reading!

Let’s give the issue a human face. Malcolm is a smart and charismatic 8th grader. He’s the class diplomat; whenever the class wants something from you, they delegate Malcolm to come forward and persuade you. It’s Malcolm who sees through all of your gimmicks – you thought you could bribe them with candy? Hah! It’ll take more than that to pull one over on Malcolm. 

But Malcolm lags behind his classmates in reading. 

Sure, he obscures it with swagger and complaints (“Why do we have to read this? It’s so boring!”), but he reads at a fourth grade level. Malcolm does everything he can to avoid reading, like wandering the classroom or asking to go to the bathroom. But really? He can’t read as well as his peers, and he’s embarrassed. Maybe he’s even had reading intervention before and doesn’t want to leave the classroom again. 

Additionally, you’ve got to get Malcolm ready for standardized testing. Your job could be at stake, right? You’re not sure how to help Malcolm and his classmates, so you resort to “drill and kill” techniques. If students just practice enough, they’ll pass the test. Malcolm hates it, complaining to you about all the “dumb test stuff.” He says he wants to read a book, but he rejects your recommendations as “stupid.” What are you supposed to do?

Malcolm was a student in my very first class, and I’ve been working for the last year on solving Malcolm’s problems. I can’t time travel and make 8th grade ELA wonderful for him. However, with your help, we can improve it for the students like Malcolm.

That’s why I made Burnbridge Breakouts

Introducing Burnbridge Breakouts

Burnbridge Breakouts are narrative adventure games that allows students to practice reading comprehension, critical thinking, and collaboration. They harness the spirit of Escape Rooms and students will solve puzzles to move through the levels.

In the town of Burnbridge, a mystery is afoot. Over the course of the series, students will uncover clues to a sinister mystery in the town’s history from the points of view of different teenage protagonists. Although these games have wide appeal, they are perfect to engage reluctant readers in recalling, inferencing, and problem-solving. The series begins with an easy reading level and becomes more difficult. 

Using Burnbridge Breakouts to Improve Student Reading

Research tells us that effective action steps for bridging reading difficulties are: decreasing the stress of reading, increasing student engagement and motivation, and strengthening working memory.

We made the game text easy, targeting a 4th-5th grade level.

The experience becomes more challenging in two ways: 

  1. Students hone executive functioning skills while playing this game. (If you’re interested, read all about how Escape Rooms support executive functioning!)
  2. After they complete the game, students will work on extension activities at-grade level. These include reading nonfiction articles, researching connected concepts, and creative writing.

So, for example, after playing The Abandoned Skatepark, students read a nonfiction article called “The Rise of Skateboarding” (free at my TpT store). They also have research prompts that they can complete. As the facilitator, you can mix and match the activities that best meet the needs of your students.

Even though some of these activities include multiple-choice questions that resemble standardized testing, I’ve been careful to mix things up! Students have a hands-on research project after game #2, a creative writing exercise after game #3, and multiple-choice questions after game #4. Even Malcolm could celebrate that variety!

Are you ready to try Burnbridge Breakouts? You can play the first game here! Though the first game has a lighter tone, you’ll see how the puzzles work. You’ll also receive follow-up goodies to help you imagine how these games can work for your reluctant readers.

Let me know if you have questions! 

Happy teaching!


  • Jen S
    August 4, 2019 at 11:12 am

    I just tried the first game, and I think it is fabulous! I can’t wait to try it out with my middle school ELA classes! I will definitely be purchasing the other games you offer. By the by, I have also used your Intro to Shakespeare Break-Out game as well, and it, too, is exceptionally well done. Thanks for creating teaching resources that I can always count on!
    Jen S.

  • LaDonna Hall
    October 9, 2019 at 6:26 am

    I have the link to the first breakout, but I haven’t used it yet. I am waiting for a shortened day to use as a filler. What I would like to know is how much is the rest of the games in the series? If the kids like the first one I would be interested in purchasing more. It will be out of my own pocket, therefore I really need to know the cost upfront.
    Thank you!


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