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Zombie-Based Learning -- "Braaaaaaains!"

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And so it begins... Zombie-Based Learning!

You read that correctly: Zombie-Based Learning. When I started learning about it, my inner geek squealed with joy. I've always loved zombies. I've watched all the movies and even read the original Walking Dead Comics before it became a hit series in the classroom.

One Teacher's Curriculum

Geography has always been a learning target for social studies teachers, and David Hunter, who teaches at Bellevue, Washington's Big Picture School, decided to create a curriculum using Kickstarter as its funding source. He sought to make geography relevant through engaging scenarios and stories with a zombie theme tying it all together. The whole curriculum is standards-based and includes over 70 lessons where students must "consider how to duck the undead invasion, secure their supplies and, eventually, rebuild society" through a variety of activities, worksheets and discussions.

Mr. Hunter's story was featured on an NPR affiliate if you would like to read more. In addition, he has made available one of the comics he created which serve as the textbook for the curriculum. Mr. Hunter created this work in order to engage students, and I believe we can use the topic of zombies to explore further curriculum areas.

English and Language Arts

While much of the world of zombies is portrayed in comics and films, ELA teachers can use these various texts to engage students in learning important reading standards. Even the Common Core calls for reading a variety of texts and comparing and contrasting those texts (such as a film and a comic). These stories feature compelling, complex characters under extreme situations that many of us can identify with. Students could analyze the various features of the comic/graphic novel genre, or engage in character analysis. Consider using these zombie-based materials as scaffolding for more complex texts.


Many in the zombie community (did I just write that?) believe that people become zombies due to a virus, and many of the films and literature echo this as a possible method of transmission. This being the case, students could investigate the subject of viruses and bacteria using zombies as the disease being passed. They might come up with scientific methods for eradicating the disease or simply mitigating its effect. They might even hypothesize the biology behind zombies. Again, the topic of zombies is an entry point to engage students in learning significant content.


Related to the science component of zombies, many diseases increase at an exponential rate. Students could analyze different population centers and predict its spread using exponential functions. They could determine when everyone is infected and map the spread using the math data they calculate, or even explore rate of decay. Students could also investigate what happens when a certain number of people are vaccinated to help prevent the spread.

These are some ideas I have either implemented as part of a PBL project or believe might be a good entry point for zombie-based learning across the curriculum. What are your ideas for zombie-based learning to teach content and 21st century skills? (And if anyone could instructionally integrate Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" video, that would be awesome!)

Zombie-Based Learning in action

Credit: David Hunter

Comments (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jeff Brain's picture
Jeff Brain
Middle school teacher, San Francisco in Digital Media. Instructor SFSU ITEC

I've been doing this for the last three years after our laptops are turned in. All of my classes are co-designing a game called "Skhoul", where they are submitting design documents for a cooperative or competitive turn based board game using a similar concept to Mr. Miller. Looking forward to collaborating as we are on the same page. And yes, my name is really Mr. Brain.

Susan Smith's picture

I applaud the creativity for engaging learning. I would caution, though, that any fascination with a topic, whether it is zombies, vampires, or any supernatural creature, could be detrimental with students who have difficulty separating what is truly real from what is real just in fiction. Obsessions are not healthy, especially when dealing with death.

Sue Long's picture

Eons ago - I'm now retire - I purchased a jello mold of a brain and had more fun with my classes with it. Being an English teacher, it was used when learning to write descriptive paragraphs (using the five senses). At times I used it when challenging the students -- Who thinks he needs more brains? Who is willing to try something different?
As an at-risk principal, we would do "themed" learning on Halloween -- yes, we used the brain when discussing science and transplantation of organs.
This was especially fun for staff to watch the reaction of various students. (The recipe given with the mold makes for realistic looking brains. I also sprinkled a little olive oil over the top to make it look fresh.) Some students were very bold. Others threatened to report me to their parents. Some wanted to know if they were raw or cooked. It's amazing what the mind can convince the body to do. Some swallowed their piece whole.
some munched on it. Others gagged at the thought of putting a piece in their mouths, even after fellow students exclaimed it tasted like raspberry -- no maybe it's orange -- I think it tasted like lemon!
The gist is, be creative. Pay attention to what students are paying attention to in their lives. Experiment. Have some fun.

Trent DeJong's picture
Trent DeJong
Grade 12 English, Literature and Bible teacher in Abbotsford, BC

I have done some work on zombies and have done some speaking as to how they could be used in the classroom. Zombies are very popular; they obviously resonate with something in our culture. I contend they are a monster for our time. I have posted my thoughts on zombies at my website: http://trentdejong.com/?p=592. If you are looking for a simpler summary of my zombie research, here is a top 10 list for why zombies are popular in our society: http://www.squidoo.com/the-meaning-of-zombies2

Debbie's picture
Marketing Director for educational app developer, gWhiz LLC.

For another Zombies fix, check out the latest twist on mobile test prep from gWhiz. Our PrepZilla app allows users to study on their own or invite friends to study along with them. And with the addition of the latest gaming feature, Zombies!, users who choose to study on their own can challenge themselves to beat the clock and improve their score, or risk becoming one of the undead! It's serious fun.

Trent DeJong's picture
Trent DeJong
Grade 12 English, Literature and Bible teacher in Abbotsford, BC

I've been thinking that I would use zombies as the philosophical backdrop to 20th century poetry and prose -- If you accept my thesis (http://trentdejong.com/zombies-are-the-monsters-for-our-time-monsters-an...) then T. S. Elliot's "Hollow Men" (and Camus' The Stranger and The Plague) is a zombie poem. Of course, I am exaggerating the link, but this poem literary works share the same concern as Romero's Night of the Living Dead. My idea would be to start the a survey of Literature with Romero's zombies, and then go back to Anglo-Saxon asking the question, 'How did we get from Beowulf to Zombies?" A quick summary of my thesis is at http://www.squidoo.com/the-meaning-of-zombies2. If anyone has a suggestion as to what piece of literature would be good to end my course with -- some 20th century work that insists that human beings aren't zombies -- please let me know. I was thinking Tolkien, but that's not really in the canon. Any ideas?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

I love the creative aspect of this- what a great way to hook kids into the content. I've seen teachers do similar things with alien invasions and crime scene investigation- all to good effect. I think the important thing to keep in mind when one goest down this kind of road is that the learning goals have to be really clear for the teacher- and for the students- else they get muddled up with the cool factor and get lost. I like Quinn's Six Questions as a tool for that- http://schoolreforminitiative.org/doc/quinns_six.pdf

I also like to make sure I have clear Quality Criteria upfront when I get into a more complex project. By specifically describing the form (what the work will look like), the process (what skills or dispositions students will be demonstrating while they create the product or participate in the lesson) and the content (what knowledge or content they'll show they know), I'm less like likely to get lost in the weeds when it comes time for assessment.

Thanks for sharing this!

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