Teaching with Zombies

I teach a split class schedule this year, with three gifted sixth-grade social studies classes and two gifted seventh-grade Texas history classes.  I just wanted to make this clear since some of my former posts have talked about my social studies classroom.  My lesson I’m going to share this week is how I chose to teach about the four regions of Texas.

Under normal circumstances, the regions of Texas are boring.  Usually people I’ve observed and I have lectured about the natural resources as well as the uniqueness of the regions.  In that scenario most kids tune you out as soon as you start your lecture and remember nothing about the regions of Texas, which end up playing a big role later on when we look at exploration and settlement.  My first time teaching the regions, I tried splitting my class into four teams and having a debate over which of the four regions was the best.  The problem with that is that there are two plains that are using the same arguments and lose the desire to be competitive quickly.  As I sat down to redesign my lessons I knew I had to scrap everything I’d tried before and completely start over.

I knew I wanted the kids in collaborative teams and I knew that the lesson had to center around the regions of Texas.  I’m always a fan of low stakes competition in my class, so I was trying to think of a way the groups could compete without catering completely to the athletes in my classes.  I decided to use the pop culture phenomenon of zombies to motivate my students beyond the desire to compete.  I started on Monday of this week by setting suspense for Friday by simply labeling it as “Zombie Apocalypse Day” in my agenda for the week.  When my seventh graders saw that on their agendas you could hear the murmurs of excitement.  I knew I had them at that moment.

When Friday finally came around, we started with a simple warm-up that got them to recall the lesson from earlier in the week where we learned what the regions of Texas are.  All the kids were still wondering how zombies played into the regions of Texas, but I didn’t answer any of those questions.  I told them, after hearing their responses from the warm-up, that we needed to start preparing for zombies with a completely straight face.  I told them that it’s not a question of ‘if’ but a questions of ‘when’.  At that point I got them into groups, decided in which order they would select their regions, and get every team a region of Texas.  I then gave them the rules of their scenarios:

  • Decide what you would do if zombies invaded your region of Texas.
  • There are no cities, roads, or other people.
  • You have only American Indian technology before the explorers came to the Americas.
  • They had to reference their textbooks for what resources they had at their disposal.

They basically had to think like an American Indian defending their lands from foreign explorers who kept coming after their land.  The kids looked up and planned how to defend themselves from and imaginary enemy.  The kids were very creative and immediately asked me what the limitations were of zombies.  Most kids agreed that they couldn’t swim and didn’t like fire.  They went to work and I went around and tried to fan their creative flames as they worked in their groups.  Hearing their plans at the end were awesome and funny.  We had good discussions about the weak sides of their plans as well as what they had really right.  These discussions lead to discussions of how the type of zombie that invades would determine how long you could survive.  For instance, if the zombies from The Walking Dead were coming after us we would probably survive longer than if the zombies from World War Z were coming after us.  In turn this lead to discussions of particularly interesting places in Texas that would be easier to defend than others.  It was a great day of learning and talking with my classes.  I think I’ll keep this lesson around for a while and hopefully I can use the lessons learned in this quick assignment to help them understand the explorers relationship with the American Indians.

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