Surviving the zombie apocalypse: A great way to teach conditionals

NOTE: This is an updated and expanded version of one of my – and your – favourite posts from this blog. Please click here to download some teaching materials I developed to work with this idea.

One of the great things about being a childish idiot geeky nerd is that I can relate to what’s going on in the minds of a lot of my students. Like (too) many of them, I’m fascinated by the concept of zombies. Many’s the classroom break I’ve spent hypothesizing with students about the impending doom that will be brought about by the zombie outbreak. Anyway, enough about that, as that’s only a slight part of the focus of this post. This interest has led me to a resource that I think might make for a fun class activity, however. If you liked the idea of interactive fiction that I explored in the previous post but felt that it was a bit too intense for you, this follows in a similar vein but might be a bit easier to get your head around.

First of all, take a look at this picture…

zombie decision time

Here’s the situation: you’ve fought your way past a horde of zombies and made it to your vehicle. While you are making your escape, you find a survivor. He bangs on the window and begs you to let him into your car. He looks to have been bitten and is covered in blood. You have twenty seconds to make your decision.

As a teacher who has decided to show this clip in your class, what would you do now to exploit this situation? Where could this go? Here are a few things I might do…

ء Put the students in groups and get them to hypothesize about what might happen if either of the two options is taken.
ء Get them to report back to the class what they think will happen if they follow each choice.
ء Take a vote on which course of action to take.

This activity cries out for the use of conditionals. Assuming for one minute that what they are watching is real, you could use the situation to get them to reflect on the likelihood of what they think will happen actually happening. Something like…

Before making the decision:

‘If we let him in, I think he will eat us.’

After the consequences of the decision have become clear:

‘If we hadn’t left him, he might have been able to help us later on.’

Zombie chased blonde

This might all become a little clearer if you embark on the journey yourself. This is a fairly short video clip of about four minutes, leading on to four or five more (sorry, I lost count) additional episodes, each with a dilemma at the end. The dialogue is natural, but not overly challenging. The premise is simple: chose the correct path and you avoid death.

Deliver me to Hell

Ok, so I think you get the idea. I should warn you about a couple of things with this adventure. Firstly, it gets a bit bloodthirsty and gruesome, so consider your ‘audience.’ Secondly, this is actually an advert for a New Zealand pizza delivery service, so if you have any concerns about that you may wish to use one of the other clips I’ll introduce later on.

Things I particularly like about this format:

ء The video clips are only 3-4 minutes long, so students get short, sharp bursts of information on which to reflect and respond.
ء The dialogue is natural, even if the situations are sensational.
ء The clips promote vibrant discussion.
ء The activity fosters creative thinking.
ء There are opportunities for language focus (think about my conditional sentence examples).
ء You can develop reflection and narrative skills (write a paragraph summarizing the events and / or what you would have done differently).

Because all my students have laptops and campus-wide wi-fi access, I often find them watching funny clips on YouTube during the breaks. When this happens, I try to get them to tell me what they’ve been watching and discuss it in class. They are often reluctant to do so, and you get the feeling that they consider this as something wrong. This is a real shame, as it could make a springboard into a nice class discussion. This is another reason why I like to bring YouTube into the class.

As I mentioned, this zombie story is just one of a number of interactive adventures on YouTube. Here are the first episodes of several others.

The Time Machine

Time machine

This one is less gruesome than the zombie adventure. If you like this, go to Chad, Matt and Rob’s website for many more adventures.

Choose a different ending

Dont take the knife

This is what public service announcements look like these days.

A bit of advice

Play through all of the options for each adventure. This will help you to decide if the content is appropriate for your learners and enable you to plan activities depending on how things go.

A request

If you use these in your classes, please let me know how it goes.

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12 thoughts on “Surviving the zombie apocalypse: A great way to teach conditionals”

  1. Brilliant. My students and I already made our survival plans some months ago (using the conditional) but now we’re going to revisit the subject with some of your great ideas. Will get back to you. Well done that man!

  2. Finally! Someone who thinks like me. As a high school English teacher who also runs a blog, I’m relieved to see there are other teachers out there with the same sense of education as I have. I regularly get into discussions with students about super powers, sci-fi, and yes, zombies. I love the idea of this zombie lesson. As someone who regularly creates lessons for both the internet and the classroom, I’m going to keep this in mind!

    Consider the site followed,

    Jonathan Howard

  3. Tomorrow someone will come to observe the way I teach. I will use the time machine clip and see how it goes!
    Thank you and will surely let you know about the outcomes.

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