Very often when I’m figuring out what to teach, I find myself going outside of the classroom English textbook. In this feature, I take a look at those reading selections.
“Wait, why do I have to die?”
“Well, somebody has to die.”
I know this sounds weird, but when I heard two students say that to one another in the middle of class I knew that my lesson was working. We had broken into groups and were working on the plots to stories that involved a real-world, authentic scenario that had them using vital 21st Century skills.
Earlier in the year, when we were preparing for a benchmark test that had a section of functional reading, I wanted to find some test prep materials that was more interesting than what we usually have to deal with, like a driver’s license application or the VCR manual troubleshooting page that prompts students to ask “What’s a VCR?” So I went to the school library and found Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide, copied part of the chapter about the best weapons to use when fighting zombies, wrote up some multiple choice questions, and passed them out. It worked as a practice and the test scores were pretty good but we had more fun with the reading and flipping through other parts of The Zombie Survival Guide that I wanted to do more.
Money being scarce, I didn’t have the ability to order a class set of ZSGs and I didn’t necessarily want to go bit by bit through Brooks’s book (plus, I returned it to the library so a student could take it out and read it); however, I did have a copy of the sequel at home and a photocopier and what ensued proved to be one of the more worthwhile parts of my English classes so far this year.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is Brooks’s more serious follow-up to the tongue-in-cheek survival guide, as Brooks uses the central “narrator” of a reporter interviewing various people who played major and minor roles in a war against the undead that almost wiped humanity off the map to tell that war’s story. While it does have its racy parts, the novel’s structure is such that it is more like a series of separate stories with an overarching narrative than a single story. So it winds up becoming one of the few novels that I have no problem excerpting (you can find a great summary of the book on Zombiepedia).
I chose two particular stories which make up a vignette of their own, and both of which take place in Japan (I don’t know if I was trying to fulfill a “world literature” curriculum requirement or if I simply like this part of the book). The first is that of Kondo Tatsumi, who is a teenager who does nothing but sit on his computer all day and communicate with friends over the internet where they try to one up each other regarding the facts of the zombie plague. When the internet goes down completely, he is forced to turn his attention to the outside world, which is aflame. The second is that of Tomonaga Ijiro, a blind gardener who manages to not only survive, but becomes an incredibly effective zombie killer. The two meet up at the end of the section with Tomonaga becoming a sensei of sorts to Kondo.
It’s a great way to look at character development, plot, tension and suspense, and even problem solving as both characters are rather incapable of combatting the zombie hordes and manage to survive based on their own resourcefulness. We discussed all of this after reading it, but as I was drawing up lesson plans for this, I decided I wanted to try to take our look at World War Z one step further. Read the rest of this entry »