Reasons Diseases become Epidemic

By: Sara Chavarria

Time: 30 minutes
10 minutes for Copying of Overhead 1 for each World History class. Print Answer Key for Overhead 1.
Materials: Overhead 1 – Reasons Diseases become Epidemic (x number of classes)
Answer Key of Overhead 1
Students will need note paper


In lesson 1 the class ended with the promise that two leading questions, 1) Why did this (epidemics) happen at this time in history? and 2) How did this (epidemics) happen? would be addressed in the lesson entitled “Reasons Diseases become Epidemic! In this lesson students will explore additional questions to add to these two in order to better investigate the time periods mentioned: the 14th century, America at contact, and the Age of Industry.

1. Identify reasons diseases become epidemic and list them in web format.

Historical Thinking Standards

  • 4A – Formulate Historical questions
  • 5A- Identify issues and problems in the past.
  • 5C- Identify relevant historical antecedents.




Activity (Note-taking using a web)
1. Setting the stage. On the board write down the two leading questions from the previous day that the lesson ended with: 1) Why did this (epidemics) happen at this time in history? and 2) How did this (epidemics) happen?

2. During this exercise students will take notes within a web, (see Overhead 1), Reasons Diseases become Epidemic! (Have students take notes to further explore how to study diseases becoming epidemic. The two questions triggered by lesson 1 are not sufficient to prepare them to address how to investigate disease in history so additional questions and their possible answers must be addressed.) Display Overhead 1 and have students create the web on their note sheets. You will help to fill it out. They must write down notes as they are developed.

3. Explain that the web shows a different set of Why? and How? questions but now introduces Where? When? and Who?

4. Ask students Why do diseases become epidemic? Diseases happen for a number of reasons but they are mostly caused as a result of a.) Human/animal contact and b.) Poor human hygiene habits.

5. Ask students How do diseases become Epidemic? Epidemics occur because the disease finds enough hosts to contaminate and invade. Epidemics are facilitated through human movement and travel. Ask students what would be reasons for humans to move? (Answers: Trade, wars, & city industry.)

6. Ask students Where do diseases become epidemic? This occurs where people congregate or where people and animals congregate. Ask students: Where do people come closely together? (Answers: In cities, during warfare, and through trade along trade routes.)

7. By now students should start seeing some patterns in what dominant factors help diseases spread. The following question should address examples of: When do diseases become epidemic? Ask students to share their ideas here. Answers should include: bad hygiene habits, poor sewage systems, ignorance of treatment, and new human contacts.

8. Finally, address: Who do epidemic diseases target? Pose the question: Do diseases affect mostly the poor, the rich, or both equally? Maybe the distribution of disease is based on age or gender? Write down student ideas to what they would choose and why.
Possible answers would be:

a. the poor because they can’t afford luxuries that help hygiene,
b. the poor because they live in areas with poor sewage systems or without running water,
c. the poor because they can’t afford medicines,
d. or both because diseases don’t care who they affect so long as they have a body to live in.
e. children because they aren’t fully grown.
f. The aged because they are weaker.

The student webs should be filled out. End by noting that all of these questions will help them answer the two major questions: 1) Why did this (epidemics) happen at this time in history? and 2) How did this (epidemics) happen? The questions have not been forgotten but in order to fully comprehend what epidemic diseases are, a little ancient history needs to be explored.

Embedded Assessment
Students can be broadly assessed as to their understanding of the: who, why, where, when and how of epidemics from a social perspective as they respond within a class discussion and on a web chart.

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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