The zombie apocalypse and its role in the ELT classroom

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.

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.’

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

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

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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    45 thoughts on “The zombie apocalypse and its role in the ELT classroom

    1. Hi Adam,
      While not overly interested in zombies per se, the title of this appealed to me for two reasons:
      -I recently read ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ – an excellent take on the classic book which cleverly (and hilariously!) incorporates zombies into the story without really changing it. You could use the title as a springboard – how would x story change if you put zombies into it?
      -Leicester City Council was forced to admit it was unprepared for a zombie attack last week because of a freedom of information request. This could be another springboard for discussion – how would one go about preparing a city for a zombie attack? :)
      And of course, the classic funny zombie text that you could also use for clips for your lesson is Shaun of the Dead – really surprised me, and is still to this day the only zombie film I’ve ever seen.
      Hope you find those interesting! :)

      1. Thanks for the excellent suggestions, Sandy. Yes, I saw that Leicester council was forced to explain the contingency plans for a zombie attack: hilarious! The Center for Disease Control in America also did something similar recently. Shoulkd we be worried?!?!

        Shaun of the dead is also a classic, one which I’ve watched with students before. They really enjoy the humor.

        Great ideas here, thanks for sharing.

    2. Dear Adam,

      Thank you very much for the suggestions. If not this summer, I will use your ideas in my class next September :)

      YouTube is a great source both for entertainment and education and what’s better than combining them? I often use clips from YouTube. Even we don’t have computers in all of our classes, I can easily get my students to use their mobiles to access YouTube (as you said, it’s what they do most of the time anyway..)

      I’ve given a workshop both at Thessaloniki TESOL 2011 and Istek ELT 2011 entitled ‘Using YouTube to Teach Productive Skills’. I thought you may be interested in it. Here’s the link:


      1. Thanks, Deniz.

        I think we’re probably in the same situation of having just finished classes for the semester, so I’ll also have to wait a while to be able to try this out. Thank you also for the link. YouTube is a valuable resource and one that both we teachers and the students make great use of, so not employing it as a classroom tool in some way seems crazy. I’ll definitely watch your presentation.

      1. To be fair, I think the council is obliged to address any perceived gap in policy once it has been questioned, no matter how ridiculous!

        Thanks for commenting, Ann.

      1. Thanks, Brad. Can’t believe I found this the day after classes finished. Looking forward to testing it out as I agree it seems like it will be fun.

    3. Hey Adam,

      Sorry to leave an unrelated comment, but I couldn’t find any contact info for you on the blog! I’m wondering if you might be interested in a guest post. Please drop me an e-mail!



    4. So fun! Thanks for sharing this, Adam. I went through three choices on the zombies one and didn’t die yet. Given all the possible streams, I wonder if the storylines converge at some point. Otherwise, it must be quite a lengthy process to preview all possible content.

      I wonder how I could work this in somewhere. I might have to resign myself to suggesting it to teachers of my summer program.

      1. No one said surviving the apocalypse would be easy!

        I guess at any point you could stop and get the learners to predict the rest of the content and go away and complete it themselves.

        Another thing could be to stop the story and reflect on what they’ve done so far and how they might have done things differently in retrospect.

        I’m doing this for a teacher training workshop on Friday in which I’ll be collecting feedback on how to use it effectively in class. Watch out for my follow up comment.

    5. Hi Adam, just found and read this. As a zombie fan, looking forward to watching the clips in a quiet moment (at work now!)

      The lesson format with short video clips is a great one.


    6. Thanks for sharing this. I used the Chad, Matt, and Rob interactive Time Machine videos with my advanced ESL class. They were really into it and begged me to show them the other (wrong) choice clips as well. They came up with some creative ideas about how to dispatch zombies. The topic of how much can you really help your friends if they are making poor choices (like running into a dragons cave) was raised. I also saw that Chad, Matt, and Rob have an instructional video on making your own interactive story. This could be a fantastic assignment. Thanks again for sharing!

      1. You’re more than welcome, Teacher Rabbit. That instructional video is really good. I’m thinking of getting my students to make their own videos and then challenge their classmates to make their way through each others’ stories.

    7. This looks awesome. Trying this out with two upper intermediate teenage classes today. I’m not sure who will be more excited in the lesson. Will let you know how it goes. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Great to hear that, Adam. I’ve done variations of this activity a few times now, and it always creates a bit of intrigue and genuine interest. Often, we end up watching every variation even when they have decided on the correct course of action.

        To be honest, this six-episode adventure is perhaps a bit long; some of the Chad, Matt and Rob adventures, which are only three steps in length, work better. I’d love to hear how it went and how you uncovered language, too.

    8. Too bad each clip doesn’t have more dialogue, then I could see myself using these with my learners (adults, intermediate level, academic/workforce entry focus). This is a great idea though! I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for a video series that I could use for my group.

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