Today’s Epidemic
Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 1 class
Preparation Time: 1 _ hours to read the lesson and to read the poetry published on http://www.thebody.com/poetproj/young.html, which is the website for the poems published by the AIDS Poetry Project: Listening to Young Voices
Materials: Access to computer lab or any other way for students to read the poetry published on http://www.thebody.com/poetproj/young.html , which is the website for the poems published by the AIDS Poetry Project: Listening to Young Voices

In prior lessons students have looked at historical diseases and their impact on the people of the time. In this lesson they will examine the pandemic of our time and read poetry written by some of the youngest victims of this scourge, identifying examples of poignant imagery in a literary selection. The students will be encouraged to realize that the battle against infectious diseases hasn’t been won, that it is not merely an academic problem, but involves a myriad of individual tragedies. This is the apply lesson. Students will make connections between the way disease affected people in historical times and how it continues to affect the emotional, personal life of people today by looking at the poetry of writers who are close to the age of the students.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify examples of poignant imagery in a literary selection;
2. Make connections between the author’s outlook on life and the impact that life-threatening disease has had on his or her philosophy;
3. Make connections between the impact that disease has had on people in historical times and how it continues to affect the interior life of people today.

National English Education Standards
Standard #2
Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

Arizona State Standards
Strand 2: Concept 1
PO 2. Analyze the author’s use of figurative language, including simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, symbolism, allusion, and imagery in a literary selection.
PO 3. Compare (and contrast) the illustration of the same theme in two different literary genres, using their structural features as the basis for comparison.
P.O. 4 Identify how an author’s choice of words and imagery sets the tone and advances the work’s theme.

Teacher Background
The teacher should have, at least, a basic knowledge of what HIV and AIDS is, how it affects a person physically and how widespread it is among children worldwide.

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.thebody.com/poetproj/young.html (The website for the poems published by the AIDS Poetry Project: Listening to Young Voices)



1. Throughout history there have been many plagues. Ask the students to enumerate the different diseases that they know of and when in history these illnesses struck. Review how life for an ordinary person changed during times of widespread contagion and how society as a whole was often affected.

2. Discuss with the students how modern medicine has helped people living in industrialized nations to combat many diseases that in the past wiped out great numbers of people. While there are still diseases, such as cancer, that pose a formidable challenge to cure, there are those that have all but disappeared in richer areas of the world. Yet, we do live in a time where a totally preventable disease has become a pandemic, affecting the entire world. AIDS is a preventable disease, but today many of its victims are innocent children, especially in the Third World. These youngsters must face the reality of death at a time in their lives when other children are strangers to such grimness. Even teenagers in our culture feel themselves to be invincible. So how do the most vulnerable victims of this plague of our time come to grips with their situation?

3. Read the poems published on the web site of AIDS Poetry Project: Listening to Young Voices. http://www.thebody.com/poetproj/young.html

4. Ask the students to then go through the poems, on their own, writing down images that they find particularly powerful, well-crafted lines, and stunning disclosures. Is there one poem that speaks to them personally? What are the feelings that come through these straightforward expressions? Have the students share their answers with the class. Then ask them if they sense any similarities between these poems and any of the literature that you have worked with in the other lessons this week. Despite the different social conventions of different periods of history, the specter of death seems to compel people to speak with equal intensity.

This entire quarter will be devoted to the study of disease and how it has shaped the human experience. In history the impact of disease has often been overshadowed by the actions of prominent individuals and the changes brought about by wars and inventions. Disease has also been a major contributor to the course of history. Ask the students to consider how different our lives would be today even if we did not have illnesses of all sorts to contend with.


Embedded Assessment
Both the written work and the class discussions offer opportunities to evaluate how well the students are engaging the objectives of the lesson. The written assignment could be graded on both how many quality examples were listed and how effectively they backed up their opinions with clear examples from the texts.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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