What Has Happened Here?
By Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 1 class
Preparation Time: 1 hour to read lesson and make copies of passage from Year of Wonders
Materials: A copy for each student of the selected passage from the Year of Wonders

In this lesson students will read a passage from Geraldine Brooks’s novel Year of Wonders in which the devastating effects of the plague on an English village are described. The book while fiction, is based upon a real village in England that quarantined itself to prevent the spread of the Plague. When the students are given the selection they will not know what caused the dire situation for the village. They will be asked to list the various ways in which life has been disrupted and to guess at the cause.

This is the engage lesson. Students will describe the effects of the Plague on a Medieval English village.

Students will be able to:
1. Read the text with understanding.
2. Generate questions to clarify the meaning of the text.
3. Make connections between the text and information learned in their history and science classes in addition to their prior knowledge and experiences.

National English Education Standards
Standard #3
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and other texts, their identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features.

Arizona State Standards
Strand 1: Concept 6
PO 2. Generate clarifying questions in order to comprehend text.
PO 4. Connect information and events in text to life experiences and to related text and sources.

Teacher Background
A general knowledge about the Middle Ages, the daily life of the common person in those days, and the Plague is necessary to comfortably present the information in this lesson.

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.medieval-life.net/health_main.htm (A basic overview of medieval life)
http://www.teacheroz.com/Middle_Ages.htm (The Middle Ages, Chivalry, and Knighthood - A detailed website with extensive links for every aspect of medieval life)



1. Ask the students to consider for a moment how day in and day out we rely on so many things and people to be there for us.

2. Verbally brainstorm who and what these resources and significant people are in our lives. However, throughout history the lives of countless average people have been completely disrupted by forces beyond their control such as war, disease, financial upheaval, revolutions both political and scientific, etc. Take a few minutes to enumerate some of these that the students have already studied in history.

3. Give the students time to read the passage from Year of Wonders. As they read have them make a list of all the ways that the narrator’s life is different now than in her past. Who is gone from her life? What effect does all of the loss have upon the author’s actions and perspective on life? They should make a list of questions that might help them clarify the text.

4. Ask the students to speculate what great disaster befell the narrator’s town. Students should note any clues in the text that point to an identifiable culprit. At the end of class, take ten or fifteen minutes to discuss the written work. It would be good for the class to listen to everyone’s ideas before you let them know that it was the Plague that caused such upheaval in this particular story.

5. Reveal to the students that this passage was about the Plague that devastated much of Europe at various times throughout history. This quarter they will be studying this contagion as well as many others in both science and history. In English they will endeavor to see the emotional and personal cost to humanity of these epidemics.


Embedded Assessment
Students’ ability to read the text with understanding and to generate questions that clarify the meaning of the text can be assessed in their notes and questions. Whether they can make connections between the text and information learned in their history and science classes and their prior knowledge and experiences can be assessed in the class discussion.


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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