Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 13, 2013

Class has monstrously good time

'Zombie apocalypse' spawns English lesson in Lawrence

Mike James
The Independent

LOUISA — There is nothing like an army of the undead to trigger a sense of urgency.

When their teacher unleashed a fictional army of zombies on Friday, one freshman honors English class at Lawrence County High School channeled the ensuing desperation into fueling their writing skills.

English teacher Missy Barnett based her grotesque approach on the basic writers’ dictum: write what you know.

She wanted her students to try their hands at composing persuasive essays, and what better motivation is there to effective cajolery than life or death situations, she reasoned.

Her students are studying a dystopian novel featuring zombies — “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan is the first volume in a trilogy about a society rebuilding after a zombie apocalypse.

Since zombies are enjoying a resurgence in pop culture, Barnett created an imaginary invasion in which the undead hordes swept through Louisa, terrorizing inhabitants and crippling the city’s resources.

She sent half the class in teams on a scavenger hunt through the school and cobbled the remaining students into a rump government to rally the populace and battle the zombies.

It was all great fun, with search teams barging into classrooms and offices to find tools for resisting the invasion, and student officials hashing out priorities for survival.

However, although brainstorming sessions were punctuated with wisecracks and spells of laughter, the exercise served multiple purposes.

The exercise, with its injections of fear and adrenaline, was a window into the way Ryan approached her theme. “I want them to understand the sense of urgency the author is trying to convey,” Barnett said.

The right-this-minute pace of the exercise went a long way to doing so, or at least enough that, when she sat the students down to write short pieces, they were writing from experience, she said.

Barnett believes her students learned an additional, social lesson — that emergency response planning is best done before there is an emergency. When adrenaline is flowing is not the best time to plan, she said.

The students will write lengthier pieces in the days to come. Their job will be to write persuasively. The twist is half of them will be assigned to take the position the apocalypse is imminent and the other half will take the opposite view, that zombies aren’t all that dangerous.

Among other things, doing so will provide insights into political rhetoric, Barnett said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.