“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.
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.