There are certain lessons that come off so well that I can’t help writing about them. This is one of those. For several years I’ve used a zombie apocalypse theme (#ZombieApocalypseRoom207) to smash a few last-minute math lessons right before the Polite Pirates take their state-wide standardized assessment (PSSA). This theme is exciting and scary, kind of like the test that my third graders take for the first time in their public-education career.
I’ve made videos of some of our classroom characters expressing the need to understand perimeter and area, as well as capacity in order to motivate my class to learn these concepts. It has worked great! They practice plotting data into graphs and review all sorts of math ideas within a story line involving life and death survival from brain-hungry imaginary horrors. They love it!
This year, as April was winding down, I decided to round out the month of poetry by having the Polite Pirates analyze a couple of poems about zombies. I Googled “Zombie Poetry,” and found a few perfect candidates. One of them was written by Kenn Nesbitt, and can be found on Poetry4Kids.com.
“Our Teacher’s Not a Zombie” is a four-stanza rhyming poem (ABCB pattern) about a teacher who behaves like a zombie until she’s had her coffee. The poem compares the educator to a zombie, both her appearance and behavior. It worked out wonderfully to read and analyze this with my students, because I was modeling what they would do between this poem and another! We discussed the way the first three lines from each stanza are simple sentences. The last line of each stanza is a subordinate clause. We had a blast talking about people we know who embody the oxymoron “Living Dead” before drinking their caffeine elixir.
The second poem, “Java Zombie,” is a concrete poem. LIke the first, I found it through a simple Google search. It was created by John Ecko (2013), and is described as a tribute to the show “The Walking Dead.” The poet explains below the poem that he enjoys watching each new episode of the show when it comes out, but staying up late causes him to empathize with the zombies the next day more than he wishes. The content of this free-verse poem has to do with a single individual who mourns Mondays. He ingeniously describes himself as infected with exhaustion from sleep deprivation. Luckily, there is a cure. It’s the same medicine that the teacher from the first poem takes! Coffee.
I especially like the way John Ecko has the speaker of his poem hunger for sleep. He feeds, but not on brains. The speaker eats hours. I love the line, “Victim of the dawn.” My students and I talked about what dawn is and what it means in this poem. “How is this person victimized by the start of a new day?” I help my students explore the meaning of the text. “Who are the many mentioned as monsters of the mundane?” I question. “Do you think that the speaker of the poem like his or her job?” I wrote the answers to these questions and some additional notes on the board as we reread and discussed the poetry.
Typically, at this point I’d have the Polite Pirates (my students) compose a paragraph, sharing the similarities and differences about the two poems. This time, however, I threw them for a loop when I gave them all great big pieces of white paper and told them to draw a zombie. I explained that they ought to make it big; fill the paper; because we were going to write sentences around the outside of it. (They had done this before, so they knew what I was getting at.) We were going to make our own concrete poem, as we discuss a concrete poem! A few of them asked to draw mugs of coffee, instead. They argued that this was one of the main things that the two poems had in common. I was sold. “Yes! Definitely, draw coffee, as long as your sentences compare and contrast the two zombie poems.”
Some of the Polite Pirates watched Youtube videos to help them draw their zombies. Others drew their own unique creations. One girl drew a Mindcraft zombie. Another drew a girl being attacked by zombies. There were big mugs of coffee and small cups of java. Some had zombie hands holding them. One or two have zombie hands hanging from coffee cups. “Yuck!”
Before adding any color to their posters, the Polite Pirates had to first write sentences. Then they had to fine-tip-marker the writing. After that, they had to erase the pencil. Finally, it was time to color… “And, I don’t want to see any white!” They had to color every inch of their papers. “What if I want this part of my coffee cup to be white?” a student asked, pointing to a place that did look like it was supposed to be white. “Here is a white crayon,” I countered, passing a crayon to my student.
In the end, I have a bulletin board full of super cool zombie artwork, and the Polite Pirates practiced analyzing poetry. It was a great way to deepen my students’ understanding of metaphor and figurative language.
Ecko, J. (2013). Java Zombie: A tribute to The Walking Dead. Ecko Vision. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from https://eckovision.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/java-zombie-a-tribute-to-the-walking-dead/
Nesbitt, K. (2018). Our Teacher’s Not a Zombie. Poetry 4 Kids. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from https://poetry4kids.com/poems/our-teachers-not-a-zombie/