“Hey Ms. R., that was pretty good…for a school movie.”
Yes, The Twilight Zone, that 60-year-old black-and-white TV show, earns what I call high praise from teenagers.
Before we get to my all-time favorite episodes to use as teaching tools, here are seven reasons to bring The Twilight Zone to your classroom:
• Rod Serling’s awesome. Here’s a guy who joined the Army to fight in WW2 the day after he graduated from high school, used entertainment writing as a tool of activism, and worked as a teacher even while he was a big-shot Hollywood producer. Kids should know him. Click here to help them do that.
• A lot of episodes have threads that can be tied to classic literature or current events. More on that below.
• Episodes run about 25 minutes, the perfect amount of time for students to sit back and enjoy the show while still leaving plenty of class time to dig into an analysis of what they just watched. (Note: Do yourself a favor and skip Season 4. Twilight Zone ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. For the first three seasons, the 25-minute format worked great. Then, CBS executives overruled Serling and ordered the series to be lengthened to fill an hour slot during the fourth season. It didn’t go well. Those episodes are slow, filled with obvious time-stretchers. For the fifth and final season, the series returned to its shorter format before CBS and Serling decided to part ways.)
• The show is easily accessible. Most episodes are available to Netflix and Hulu subscribers. They can be purchased for $1.99 per episode via Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. You can also find open-access websites where episodes are being streamed both with and without ads.
• Great visual storytelling. Serling worked with lots of talented directors and actors. If you have students who want a career in media arts, they should watch this series and take notes. (It’s been reported that it’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s favorite TV show, if that holds any weight with your kids.)
• Great versatility. Episodes work as a standalone lesson to fill those awkward in-between-unit days on the calendar. They work as an evergreen sub plan. They work as a lead into a longer unit on science fiction.
• The stories are freaky and stick in our heads. Like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut’s work from the same era, some of Serling’s stories are eerily prophetic of our lives today.
Okay, so now you’re convinced. Where to begin? There are 156 episodes in the original series – ack! – and not everything works for classroom use. I’ve done the seat-time on the couch and now happily present…cue the TZ opening theme music…
Top 5 Twilight Zone Episodes to Use in the Classroom
“Where is Everybody” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Plot: A man with amnesia finds himself trapped in an abandoned town.
• Social isolation (good supplemental lesson to Of Mice and Men)
• Limits of technology to meet the basic human need for companionship
• Mental effects of COVID-related quarantines
“Number 12 Looks Just Like You” (Season 5, Episode 17)
Plot: A teen girl resists efforts to look, act, and think like everyone else around her.
• Censorship/book banning (good supplemental lesson to Fahrenheit 451)
• Adherence to a cultural beauty standard
• Dangers of blind conformity
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Plot: A strange electrical outage makes neighbors suspicious of each other.
• Scapegoating and modern witch-hunts (good supplemental lesson to The Crucible)
• Man’s inhumanity to man
• Fear’s power to cloud logical thought
“Time Enough at Last” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Plot: A bookish man who wants only to be left alone to read survives a nuclear bomb blast and finally has all the time in the world to read his beloved books.
• Effects of loneliness
• Qualities of healthy/unhealthy relationships
• Situational irony
“To Serve Man” (Season 3, Episode 24)
Plot: An alien race descends on Earth with benevolent promises and unclear motives.
• Appearance vs. reality
• Social media addiction
• Frailty of humanity
Would you agree to be locked in a glass room and not talk to anyone for a year to win $500,000? That’s the set-up for “The Silence” (Season 2, Episode 25). While this episode by itself doesn’t make my Top 5 list, it pairs nicely with a reading of Anton Chekhov’s classic short story, “The Bet.” If you want students to wrangle with questions about the value and meaning of life, these works will give your kids a lot to talk about. Want a two-day compare/contrast lesson? Click here to download my set of materials.
Special thanks to blog reader Leticia G. who let me know about the connection between Chekhov and Serling.
I just. can’t. stop. My last suggestion is a sweet treat for you, dear teacher friend. I wouldn’t show this one to classes, but as an
older veteran teacher this one speaks to me. “The Changing of the Guard” (Season 3, Episode 37) is sort of like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but for teachers.
Okay, Twilight Zone fans, which episodes did I miss? What are your favorites to use in the classroom? How do they connect to other curriculum or themes? Share the good stuff below! Teach on, everyone.
33 thoughts on “5 Best Twilight Zone Episodes for the Classroom”
“Episode at Owl Creek”. By Ambrose Bierce. I just showed it to my juniors as we read Realism.
Excellent suggestion and companion piece, dbarbre! Thanks for sharing. Fun fact: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Season 5, Episode 22) was an Academy Award-winning short film by a French team that Serling purchased and aired in part as a cost-saving measure as his series was nearing the end of its run. Reports vary, but he probably paid about $25,000 for the rights to the short film in a time when it cost him about $65,000 to produce each episode of his show. He definitely got a steal of a deal!
I tell my juniors they have to memorize the song and sing it for their final. (Kidding). But be prepared for it to be stuck in your head for weeks.
Obsolete Man is great for Dystopian units. I also like Eye of the Beholder.
YES!!! I love “Obsolete Man” (Burgess Meredith = TZ gold), but the extended part at the end where he reads the Bible makes it a little crunchy for my classroom. Have you seen “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” yet? It makes an excellent companion to “Eye of the Beholder.” Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you’re in the Zone with me. 🙂
“Eye of the Beholder” I use this when discussing Menippean Satire.
Menippean Satire?!! Oh my gosh, Nancy, I have a new rabbit hole to explore. Awesome!
You are right on the money with these! The only other one I would add is “The Eye of the Beholder.”
For sure, Ava. “Eye of the Beholder” is a classic, but I’m going to be crazy-controversial here and argue that “Number 12” actually covers similar ground while giving us even more teaching threads/talking points. Heck, I might even teach them both together in a mini-unit and let the kids decide which episode wins the rumble! 😀
I always loved The Bewitching Pool, and the actress who played Scout in To Kill a Mockinbird movie, which I show students, is in it. Although her voice is dubbed and it’s awful. I do love the story, though.
Oh my gosh, Lynda, that’s great! I have a weird connection I think you’ll enjoy. Collin Wilcox, the actress who plays the teenager in “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” also played…wait for it…Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird!!! What the what?!
Can’t wait to try some of these! Great ideas.
I’m so glad these might be useful, Cynthia! Grab some popcorn and enjoy. 🙂
GREAT ideas! 🙂 Definitely will try this with my more advanced students!
Hope all is well with you, Laura! 🙂
Hey, Carolyn, good to “see” you. 😉 Happy belated new year!
GREAT ideas! Going to try this with my advanced students!
Hope all is well with you, Laura! 🙂
So many good ones! I teach “All Summer in a Day” and then we watch “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up”-for its twist at the end that tues to Venus but mostly because I LOVE TWZ!
Any thread we can tie to TZ is a good thread, Lea! Appreciate the suggestion. It’s been a long time since I read that Bradbury story. Off to go find a copy! 🙂
A joy as always and makes getting ready for Monday better. I love the Twilight Zone. I teach “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” with my 6th graders, I have used “Time Enough at Last” to teach situational irony. Another show from the past was The Outer Limits. They are also stand alone episodes. Keep teaching in the Zone.
Thanks, Kendall, for your kind words. I’ll add The Outer Limits to my queue. Not sure why, but I haven’t ever watched those. Sounds like fertile ground to explore! 🙂
“What you need” is excellent to illustrate situational irony not to mention discussions of ambition, materialism, want vs. need, etc.
Oh, Andrea, you know that’s right. Nobody messes with Mr. Pedott! 🙂
We’re studying the Cold War. I’ve showed The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street for McCarthyism and The Shelter for The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Love this, Ted! I also use the Monsters are Due on Maple Street as a supplement with our reading of The Crucible. Sadly, lots of modern parallels in that one that still hit close to home today. Thanks for reading and commenting!
I love your list, especially Monsters.
“The Hitchhiker” is also excellent, although the original radio broadcast is just as good.
I agree, Scott. The Hitchhiker is so creepy and well-built, but the near-rape scene convinced me to set this one aside from my list. If I were teaching The Book Thief, I might try to build a connection to the idea of death being personified. Compelling stuff!
I love using “The Invaders” in class. The twist at the end really gets the kids, and we talk about bias and assumptions. I also like that Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched) is the main character.
Oooh…something new for me to watch! I haven’t seen this one, so it’s now on my list of media to enjoy this weekend. Thanks for the suggestion! 😀
I use Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up in my forensic science class. We talk about forming theories about things but being open to the possibility you are wrong. I ask them to gather evidence as they watch as to who the Martian is and then we discuss it before the reveal
I use Stopover in a Quiet Town in my Introduction to Criminal Justice class in a unit on Field Sobriety Tests. I have them come up with a PSA against drunk driving, which is the theme of this episode. I also give extra credit to who can figure out what’s going first.
I love how you’re using crossover materials to build excitement for your unit, Tony. Sounds like a cool class!