Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fun in the Classroom - Zombie Apocalypse

So Megan has once again (I think) hit the nail on the head with her link-up party and is collecting ideas for having some FUN in the classroom. Especially in high school classrooms we seem to get awfully serious and grown-up and (horrors!) test-driven. No wonder teachers and students always seem to be stressed, miserable, reluctant, bored or a combination of the above. Whether it is something small like a sweet rewarded 5 minute quiz at the start of class (bribery for the win!) or something more educationally sound (we hope), I am a firm believer in FUN for the classroom (also parentheses for the sentences...and exclamation marks, clearly!).

My latest and greatest FUN idea is entitled:

The Zombie Apocalypse

image from Shaun of the Dead - the only Zombie movie I've ever seen. I hated it.

It was born in last lesson on a very long, dull day when frankly the last thing I felt like doing was the next little poem or grammar exercise. Does anyone else find that some of the best ideas emerge when you're avoiding something?

I only played the game with with my English classes, because a) Maths is too curriculum crowded and b) it was harder to make it sound relevant in Maths. But I think at the beginning of next year I will play it with all my classes - I found the activity really thought provoking for me and my students. Not only that, but it really gave insight into certain class dynamics and opened doors for really fascinating class discussions in the lessons that followed.

So, without further ado, I offer you The Zombie Apocalypse Game.

I start building it up very seriously. I have a very important question to ask you... Something everyone should think about in their lives... Something potentially life changing, and very serious... 

"So, if there was a Zombie Apocalypse..."

[wait for laughter to die down]

"...and everyone in the world was infected except the people in this very classroom, and the school building was surrounded by Zombies, and we have one hour to prepare before they break through the fence and attack us..."

[forgive the criminally compounded sentence but that's how I talk sometimes]

"...where in the school building would we go, and what would we do?"

[pause for the murmur of conversation, questions and general surprise]

"...and by the way, there is only one right answer."

[mostly true, so far, though every time I've played I've added to that 'right' answer]

The answers to that question forms the first part of the lesson. Getting food, water and weapons; finding a safe-ish location - it takes a while to debate, discuss and generally argue about all the issues raised. After the first few minutes of confusion, everyone has an opinion. I'm very strict about not "cheating on the thought experiment" - but within the bounds of the question, anything goes.

The second part of the game is much more challenging - both to play and to manage. I start by pointing out this sad truth:

"Um, guys... we've just used up half of our survival time  arguing..."

This leads to a discussion about how best to make survival decisions most effectively. So far every time we have decided to elect captains in various fields: defence, food & water, health and long term survival. We talk about what would make a good captain for each of these categories - what personal characteristics will benefit the group.

Then I ask for nominations (with motivations) from the class. This part is tricky. I come down very hard on rude or inappropriate nominations, and I warn them beforehand to think carefully about what they are going to say before they open their mouths. But once the process is moving properly it can be incredibly affirming for the kids. It forces them to think about the qualities they REALLY admire in their classmates, instead of the silly things which often result in popularity at school.

Once captains have been nominated (I don't actually take it to a vote, but rather accept all sensible nominations) we discuss priorities and assign a different number of people to each work category based on urgency and heaviness of the tasks involved. 

All in all, this part of the game still looks like fun, but it is actually pretty serious work. Strengths and weaknesses, group work, prioritizing - it starts to look like a serious assignment! But we're all still (somehow) engaged, and having fun. Weird, huh?

The last part of the game gets very deep and begins to tread on very sensitive ground. In fact I don't play it with every class. But if I decide to take the plunge, it sounds like this:

"But what happens if some of us don't act in the best interests of the group?"

The kids have got my point by now, but they're still so absorbed in the game that they're willing to really think about it for a change.

We discuss whether we should elect an overall captain, and how we would choose that person. We talk about the important role of "enforcer", and some of the rules we would choose and choose to enforce. And of course HOW they would be enforced. Curriculum links to The Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm become obvious at this point, but the same discussions come up in any class. If I did this at the beginning of the year then links to classroom constitutions are practically mandatory.

Either way, the game has paid its weight in educational value.

And it's fun! It really is. In the weeks after I played this I have heard rumours of zombie apocalypses in the playground. Other classes have requested that we play. 

I smile. Me 1, Boredom 0.

[linking to Megan's Better Together Linky! Thanks Megan... Go check out the other entries!]

yours in survival mode,


  1. I love it! So fun-- and it makes them think critically, which is something our students are sometimes reluctant to do.

    1. Thanks Megan - and also thanks for the inspiration to actually write it up!