Can Diseases be Prevented?

Author: Sara Patricia Chavarria

Time: 2 class periods plus homework
Prepare copies of Handout 1.
Make overhead copy of Handout 1 for note taking.
Make arrangements for a library or internet computer room visit.
Materials: Handout 1: Matrix for notes
Teacher Aid: more diseases


In the lesson following this Explore/Explain lesson, students are asked to create a Public Service Announcement. In order to prepare for that Apply lesson, students must first understand as much as possible about diseases that have affected society in the past and continue to do so today. In this Explore/Explain lesson, students will write a brief research paper after investigating a specific disease that has the potential for reaching epidemic proportions if allowed to spread through bad hygiene practices or lack of vaccinations.

Students will be able to:
i. Write a research paper on a disease based on their internet or library research.

National Council for History in the Schools:
Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 4A: Formulate historical data
  • Standard 4B: Obtain historical data.
  • Standard 4C: Interrogate historical data.
  • Standard 5A: Identify issues and problems in the past.

World History Standards

  • Era 8, Standard 3C: The student understands the interplay between scientific or technological innovations and new patterns of social and cultural life between 1900 and 1940.
  • Era 8, Standard 5A: The student understands major global trends from 1900 to the end of World War II.
  • Era 9, Standard 2A: The student understands how population explosion and environmental change have altered conditions of life around the world.
  • Era 9, Standard 3A: The student understands major global trends since World War II.

Related and Resource Websites



Day 1
1. Students will conduct a Disease Investigation: Each student will be assigned a disease that was of concern at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. (Note: there will be at least 2 students per topic so the teacher might allow collaboration.)

2. The teacher has two options, reserve the computer room for internet research or go to the library and use encyclopedias for the research.

3. The student will be expected to research and collect the following information:

a. Define the disease (including how it affects humans and what factors cause it to spread).
b. The attempt by the medical communities to eradicate it (including research and means by which the medical community attempted to eliminate it from society).
c. The impact of this disease on American society and the impact of medication/vaccines on American society in the early half of the 20th century.
d. Modern concerns with this disease in the United States. Is it still a problem? Where? Why? Could it become a problem again? (Note the public health concerns that arose following Katrina. Ex. Several people died following Katrina from a disease called Vibrio vulnificus, diarrhea-causing bacteria in the same family as cholera. The Bush administration declared a public health emergency for the entire Gulf Coast in an effort to stop the spread of disease following the storm. Mike Leavitt, the Health and Human Services Secretary said, "We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases," )
e. Modern concerns with this disease in other countries. Is it still a problem? Where? Why?

4. Below is a list of diseases to explore. Some have specific historical dates to refer to in the research. (The final research paper format is left to the teacher’s discretion.)

Influenza after the 1918 scare
Polio after 1955 to advertise the Injectable Polio Vaccine (IPV)
Typhoid after the incident of Typhoid Mary
Tuberculosis vaccines after 1927
Plague after 1897 mass vaccinations
Diphtheria after 1923 vaccines

Day 2
5. When done with their research, students will share their results with the class through class discussions led by the teacher or rotating students. The discussant will take notes on an Overhead version of Handout 1 (disease data matrix).

6. Students will record their notes of the discussion results in their notes (using Handout 1 format or on their own copy of Handout 1 to fill out).

Looking at the matrix, what seem to be the major modern concerns in the United States and the world in regards to the potential spreading of disease? Pose the following questions for discussion:

If a disease appears to be eradicated in the United States but continues to pose a threat in other countries should Americans be concerned? What can we do about it?

After Day 1, students will prepare a research paper product based on their investigation. As noted, the format is left to the teacher’s discretion.

Embedded Assessment
Research papers and the disease data matrix notes can be assessed for accuracy. Discussion participation can be assessed as well. Discussants can also be assessed for how well they led the discussions.

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

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo