Introducing Problem-Solution Writing Zombie Style

When the principal called to set up the interview, I was ready – beyond ready. And then he said, “And you’ll have to give an hour teaching demonstration along with a formal interview.”


“Oh. Uhm. Yeah. Okay,” I stumbled over my words as I thought of myself in front of, not only a panel of teachers and administrators judging my every move, but also wide-eyed junior highers.

He informed me that I would have my interview in several days and that I’d be teaching an introductory lesson to problem-solution writing. Having never taught problem-solution writing before, I took a few days to consider my options and devise a clever hook to get students excited and interested.

I decided to throw out the conventional ideas that were appealing, but far too safe in my opinion. Wanting to show my true teaching style and philosophy of education, I didn’t want to compromise my values to do something I thought the people judging me would like. I stuck with my gut.

And my gut was telling me zombies.


CC Image Mark Lobo

After finalizing my lesson plan, rehearsing interview question responses, lint-rolling my outfit, and printing my resume and references on official paper, I made the commute to the school.

Taking a deep breath in the car, I grabbed my portfolio and headed into the school, greeted by cheery secretaries and the principal once I arrived in the building.

I was whisked off into a conference room and the formal interview portion began. Three English teachers, the principal, and the assistant principal asked me an entire packet of questions, one after another. I told them about myself, my ideal school, my philosophy of education, and much, much more.

It was so much fun.

I’ll never forget when I had an opportunity to ask the questions and I asked the panel, “What makes you most proud of your school?” Some of the responses centered on standards-based grading and providing a safe environment, but one of the English teachers simply replied, “Hope. We give students hope.”

I knew at that moment that this school was a wonderful place, one where I could see myself looking forward teaching at every day.

Before I knew it, I was chauffeured to the classroom where I’d be conducting my lesson. I walked into the room and realized I had no idea how to run a smart board, a foreign object in the small rural school where I was student teaching at the time.

And then I saw carefully-crafted objectives written on the board which addressed problem-solution writing. With wide and panicked eyes, I looked at the assistant principal and said that in my lesson I wasn’t covering any of those objectives. In fact, my objectives paled in comparison to the ones written on the board.

 He reassured me and said to just do what I had planned and be myself.

I can do that.

Soon after, eleven 7th graders flooded the room. It was zombie time. And I had an hour.

Before I jumped into my kooky zombie scenario, I needed to know who exactly I was teaching. The foundation of my teaching is relationships. I need to know my students first and foremost and my students need to know me before any lesson begins.

I asked all students to log onto their laptops and go to the following address:

Wanting to get to know the students better, I asked them to add their favorite school subjects to the top of the Padlet and their out of school interests to the bottom.

As I watched the responses being posted, I got a better idea of who exactly I was working with. Primarily rural, outdoorsy kiddos, I knew this lesson would be fun. (As it turns out, this seemingly small activity was the determining factor in the interview.)

And then our activity was interrupted.

By the President of America:

(That’s my brother who I conned into helping me make this video.)

Then I switched the screen to a breaking news story. Zombies!

I only played a few minutes of this video. When I shut it off, I put on my dramatic shoes and got the kids riled up:

“ZOMBIES! Have. Invaded. We have to help the President of America! We have to save ourselves! We need to create a solution to this problem! ASAP!!”

I thoroughly enjoyed playing the part of the crazy teacher. I did everything except for jump up on the table which I contemplated doing. Yes, the students giggled – it was a funny sight. But they also bought into it.

At this point, I grouped the class based on their interests using the Padlet we just completed. We had three groups based on student’s favorite school subjects: history, science, and math.

I also gave them a graphic organizer to help document every group member’s ideas.

Zombie Apocalypse

Problem: What specific zombie problem are you solving?




 Solution: Identify a variety of solutions to the problem



That’s it. I let the students go from there and they had crazy, inventive ideas. ‘Less me, more them’ was my motto as I monitored each group’s progress for the next half hour. I had to calm some students down and other students I had to pump up.

When I talked to one student in particular, I could tell he lacked confidence. The two girls in his group thought his ideas were silly. He wasn’t being heard. His ideas weren’t appreciated. He needed assurance. I must have sounded like a crazy teacher when I gave him the pep talk because when I was finished he looked at me and said, “You’re kinda freakin’ me out.”

Mission accomplished.

Once the groups had several ideas jotted down, I instructed them to narrow down their ideas to one, solid solution. This is where one group got stuck. They had so many ideas that they just couldn’t narrow it down. I suggested that they mesh their ideas together to create one giant, awesome solution.

After each group settled on one solution, we came together as a class and each group had a spokesperson detail their group’s plan to solve the zombie problem.  

The history group tried to find a history of zombies to take more preventative measures for this attack. The science group concocted a mixture to kill the zombies by running them off a cliff and into a pool of the deadly mixture where they die either on impact or from the poison. The math group tried to find the right trajectory to throw a vial of medicine to cure the zombies.

We had a discussion about combining all three solutions which turned into a very long process of annihilating millions of zombies.

To close the class, I had each student write their own letter to the President, detailing what they thought was the best solution for the zombie apocalypse.

After the students cleared the room, one of the English teachers took me on a short tour of the school and we met up with the principal. He took me back to the conference room and said, “Well, I think you’re goofy enough to work with middle schoolers. We’d like to offer you the job.”


DATE:      3/3/15                                                                    GRADE:  7th Grade 

CONCEPT: Students will understand the basic concepts of problem-solution writing.


Students will be able to identify solutions to a specific problem with 90% accuracy.

Students will be able to articulate a solution to a specific problem with 85% accuracy.

MOTIVATION: Students will enjoy working together to solve a ‘world-wide’ problem.

VOCABULARY: problem, solution, articulation


  • Silent sustained reading – 10 min.
  • Minilesson – 15 min.
  • Workshop – 25 min.
    • CLGs choose one area to find a solution for the zombie apocalypse
      • Groups compile their ideas in zombie apocalypse graphic organizer
      • Groups synthesize their ideas to create one solution
      • Groups ahead of others work on presentations
    • Group presentations
  • Closing – 5 min.
    • Problem-solution writing
    • Poem of the day: Our Teacher’s Not a Zombie by Kenn Nesbitt


MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE(S) ADDRESSED: audial – videos, oral directions, CLGs; visual – Padlet, videos, CLGs, graphic organizer, need-to-know list; kinesthetic – Padlet, CLGs; interpersonal – CLGs; intrapersonal – Padlet

EVALUATION: Both the graphic organizers and presentations done by groups serve as a formative assessment to know student understanding of problem-solution writing.

MATERIALS: Graphic organizers, laptops, projector with sound


Informational Text:

  1. Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.


  1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
  2. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  3. Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
  4. Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), reasons, and evidence.
  5. Establish and maintain a formal style.
  6. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
  7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation.

Speaking and Listening:

  1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  2. Follow rules for collegial discussions, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
  3. Pose questions that elicit elaboration and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant observations and ideas that bring the discussion back on topic as needed.
  4. Acknowledge new information expressed by others and, when warranted, modify their own views.
  5. Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.