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Hotchalk Global

news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Zombie-based Learning

by Monica Fuglei Using zombies to teach geography, math, literature

In Zombieland, rule number one might be cardio — but for teachers, the number one rule is that the undead are a powerful teaching tool. From geography to math, science and even writing, zombies are an excellent way to connect students to content that might otherwise be considered boring.

Zombies are everywhere and students love them, so it makes sense that they’d make their way into our classrooms. Even Target is getting in on the action with its own line of zombie-themed Halloween cards this year. With the popularity of The Walking Dead comic and television show and movies like Warm Bodies, students are often more likely to talk about zombies than, say, academics.

A zombie apocalypse that teaches geography

After listening to a colleague lament students’ resistance to geography class and his frustrations that they just wanted to talk about zombies, David Hunter, a teacher at Bellevue Big Picture School, created an entire geography curriculum based on survival in a post-apocalyptic zombie realm. With a Kickstarter campaign and some creativity, Hunter developed a comprehensive curriculum based on his comic, Dead Reckon. The curriculum focuses on teaching standards-based geography while appealing to students’ sense of adventure in a world where they need to hide from zombies, collect supplies, and eventually rebuild society after a zombie apocalypse.  

The on-the-move-theme of so many zombie narratives lends itself easily to geographic discussions focused on the effect of the earth on human movement and mapping and tracking people’s (or zombies’!) movements in a geographic area.  This sort of lesson can really increase a student’s ability to read maps or plot and predict movement, but the zombie educational experience doesn’t start and stop there. The unique mythology that drives zombie stories can be helpful for discussing science and math as well.

Studying zombie bites and virus transmission = math and science skills

Potential real-life “zombie apocalypse” scenarios like viruses and parasites, nanobots, or neurogenesis are excellent ways to discuss different scientific content including biology, virology, or new scientific technology. Preparations to relocate to another, zombie-free planet could expand discussions to cover space exploration and city-building. Theoretical zombie-bite-to-person transmission scenarios allow for the study of patient zero and how viruses spread through populations of people or animals. All of these options are much more exciting to students than a textbook-based science curriculum.

Virology studies regarding the transmission of viruses through populations require exponential math calculations, and scavenging survivors in a zombie apocalypse are required to monitor such things as gallons of water per survivor and daily caloric minimums to avoid starvation. These zombie-inspired math discussions can easily match with Core Curriculum math standards. While zombies aren’t generally known for being thinking creatures, their pure numbers can make for interesting and creative word problems.

Literary zombies

Additionally, unique views on writing and history can be considered through a zombie-focused curriculum. The book World War Z piqued the interest of zombie fans due to its documentary-style collection of accounts of a fictional zombie war.

This creative example can inspire students to compile their own version of a comprehensive account of a zombie apocalypse – highlighting the importance of how historical events are pieced together and even considering different cultural takes on an event. Looking through a zombie-focused comic for a timeline of incidents can help students see everything in terms of historical context, thus helping them to piece together timelines from their less zombie-filled textbooks.

Undead writing prompts

Zombies can invade English classrooms as well – offering creative writers who might otherwise struggle with finding a story idea story prompts like It was just your average school lunch until the zombie attacked our table.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Now a multitude of otherwise Jane Austen-resistant readers can pick up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for a different take on an old classic. While the entirety of the original Austen is in the text, it is imbued with struggles with the undead which can lead to interesting classroom discussions on how the text was changed from the original to accommodate zombies or how the adaptation author struggled to maintain the feel of the original while strategically placing zombies within its pages.

Whether through a zombie-based curriculum or by just putting on a pair of special zombie lenses, education can be made much more exciting for students and teachers with the addition of the undead. Next time your lesson plan starts turning your students into zombies, stop and think:  How can the undead wake everyone up today?  


Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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