Launching a Defense; Understanding the Human Immune System

Amy Bertrand with minor modifications

Time: 3 class periods
Preparation Time: Photocopying web challenge sheets.

Internet access
Web challenge sheet
Public Health Reflection I Homework sheet

Students explore set websites to answer and develop questions about the immune system and finally jigsaw their findings together as a class.

Students will be able:
i. Answer content specific questions about the immune system.
ii. Present information to peers in a power point presentation.
iii. Assimilate information into a pictorial/ graphical description of the immune system.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard A – Science as Inquiry
Content Standard C – Life Science
Cells have particular structures that underlie their functions. Every cell is surrounded by a membrane that separates it from the outside world. Inside the cell is a concentrated mixture of thousands of different molecules which form a variety of specialized structures that carry out such cell functions as energy production, transport of molecules, waste disposal, synthesis of new molecules, and the storage of genetic material.

Cell functions are regulated. Regulation occurs both through changes in the activity of the functions performed by proteins and through the selective expression of individual genes. This regulation allows cells to respond to their environment and to control and coordinate cell growth and division.

Teacher Background
We highly recommend obtaining the NIH pamphlet “Understanding the Immune System” obtainable from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/publications/

This is an easy to read, accessible text that is helpful for both students and teachers.

The human body is the perfect environment for the millions of microorganisms with which we share this planet to enter into, feed off of, multiply and live off of. The immune system is the human body’s defense against many “foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites”. It is a fine-tuned machine consisting of cells and organs designed to keep you healthy. It is an
intricate system that involves dynamic interactions between the body’s immune cells. In this lesson students will examine component parts of the immune system.

Related and Resource Websites
Understanding the Immune System can be downloaded or ordered from: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/publications/



You may wish to use the web-quest directly as given on the site: http://www.manteno.k12.il.us/webquest/high/Science/HumanImmuneSystem/webquest.htm or modify it as you see fit. Below are our suggestions for a guided research exercise.

1. Set the stage for the webquest with the following scenario, “You have been suffering from a sore throat and fever for a week. Upon having a throat culture performed, you have been diagnosed with Streptococcus pyogenes throat infection, more commonly known as strep throat. Your doctor has told you to get plenty of rest and has given you an antibiotic. Once you are feeling better, it is your, and three of your fellow classmates task, to follow the journey of the bacteria that invaded your body. In doing so, you will follow its path through your immune system and describe how your body was able to fight off the infection. You will also define the role of the antibiotic and why it was used to treat your infection.
Within the group, each of you will research one of the areas outlined on the sheet to provide background to your team. Use the questions as guides, but do not restrict yourself to answering those questions although you will be responsible for addressing those in a written form.”

2. On the challenge sheet ask each student to read and highlight or underline three words in the passage describing the ailment that they think has invaded the immune system. They should explain these in the space provided.

3. Break the students into groups of 4, you may wish to assign individuals to specific research areas or allow them to choose who within the group will work on which questions.

4. Pass out the question sheets to each group. Instruct students that they must all be able to address the 4 major research areas even if they didn’t individually research it. Inform students that they will be assessed on this at the end of the assignment, and as a group, they will present a PowerPoint.

Research Area 1: Investigate the body's initial defense system against invading microorganisms. Once this defense is breached, investigate how the organs of the immune system respond to the invader. Gather information on each organ and what role they play in your immune system. Be prepared to provide this information to your group. As a guide for your research, you should be able to answer the following questions:

A. What is the first line of defense in protecting your body from an attack by a microorganism? How does your body defend itself when it is invaded by such an organism?

B. What is any foreign substance that triggers an immune response in the human body known as?

C. Identify the eight organs of the immune system. What are they generally referred to as and why?

D. What organ is responsible for producing the immune cells in your body? How are these cells carried throughout your body?

E. What is the function of each organ in an immune response? Where is it located in your body? How are these organs connected?

Research Area 2: Investigate the cells of the immune system. Gather information on how they function in an immune response to a "foreign invader". What role do these cells play in protecting your body now and from any future attacks by the same organisms? Answer these and the following questions and share them with your group:

A. What are the main immune cells in the body called and what are the two major types?

B. What cells are responsible for producing antibodies? What role does an antibody play in an immune response? What system "cleans up" after the antibodies do their work?

C. What are the two major contributions of the T cells to the immune defense? Explain why T cells are so important in an immune response.

D. How are the two major types of immune cells able to recognize and fight off invading microorganisms?

E. How do we gain immunity from future infections?

Research Area 3: Investigate the role of an antibiotic in fighting an infection. Provide the information for your group from the following questions:

A. Why are antibiotics used and what type of infections are they most effective in treating?

B. In what two ways are antibiotics created? How do they destroy "foreign invaders" in our bodies?

C. Why is it important to follow the instructions for taking a prescribed antibiotic very carefully? Except for an allergic reaction, why should you always finish a course of antibiotics once you have started it?

D. What are some problems that arise when a bacteria becomes resistant to an antibiotic?

Research Area 4: Investigate some of the disorders of the immune system. Name three major immune system disorders and describe them and how they affect your body's ability to fight off infection. Answer the following questions and share them with your group:

A. How does each of the three disorders you have chosen affect the immune system? Where do they originate?

B. What are some ways to treat these disorders? What are some diseases that may develop due to an immune system disorder?

C. Describe in detail immunotherapy and some of the pros and cons in using this approach to combat immune disorders. Give your opinion on the concept of immunotherapy (is it good or bad?).

Once you have each completed your research using the resources that follow and any others that you find, you will collaborate on a 15 minute power point presentation on how the body responds to a bacterial infection. You will then present your findings to the class. Include the role of the antibiotic and why it is important. You will also need to describe the immune disorders you have chosen. Follow the questions as a guide and provide the answers in your presentation. You should use the visual aids of your choice in order to demonstrate the workings of the immune system.

Homework-Major project
At this time, give students the Public Health Reflection I Homework sheet to be turned in at the start of the “Waterborne Diseases” lesson. This homework asks students to take the Public Health issue that they identified in week 3 and find both a book and an article resource that are appropriate to help them learn more about it. Remind them at the end of “I am a pathogen” to bring in their homework the next day, and there will be a short discussion at the start of “Waterborne Diseases”

Embedded Assessment

The students’ knowledge of the immune system can be pre-assessed through the students’ choice of three words in the introductory challenge passage and their explanation of why those are important terms.
Their ability to assimilate information into a presentation-description of the immune system and the ability to answer challenges in their own words allows for assessment.



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
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo