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Activity 3

Activity 3

Essential Question

How do physical changes affect human systems?


The Three Gorges Dam will provide huge amounts of power to southern China and give sea access to a city located almost 2,000 miles inland on the Yangtze River. By lowering the costs of transporting goods along the river, the dam should help bring economic growth to inland regions that are less prosperous than coastal regions. In addition the dam will help control the dangerous floods along the river that kill people and destroy property. However, the Three Gorges Dam will also have its costs. The project will be incredibly expensive and will force 2 million people to be resettled. Many historical and industrial sites will be flooded, which have unknown environmental impacts.


Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Cooperative Learning

Explain to the class that they will become part of a “Jigsaw Team” and that each member of the team will become an expert representing a different point of view on the Three Gorges Dam. They will be responsible for teaching the members of their team about their perspective on the TGD.

Review the procedures for Jigsaw.

  1. Meet in the jigsaw team to get assignments
  2. Meet in expert groups to read their assigned letter and plan together how to teach it


  3. Return to the jigsaw group to teach the perspective.

Strategy 2

Simulation/Role Play

Divide the class into four groups with each group representing one of the interest groups:

  • Local Residents
  • Chinese Government Officials
  • Environmental Group
  • Power Company

Have each group review their notes from the previous research and discussion. Have them create a script of the important points they would make if they were asked to testify from their point of view or perspective.

Have each group select a representative to attend the conference on The Three Gorges Dam. Create roles for other important people at the conference including:

  • The Chairperson for the Conference
  • The Recorder for the Conference

Establish rules for how the conference will proceed and review them with the students.

Check for Understanding

Writing in the Social Studies Classroom

Have students write a persuasive letter to a government official in China, expressing their opinion about The Three Gorges Dam. Be sure they:

  • Take one of the four positions argued at the Conference on The Three Dams
  • Support your opinion with data from the conference

Activity 2

Activity 2

Essential Question

What are the physical and human characteristics of dams?


The Three Gorges Dam will be the largest and most expensive dam ever constructed along the Yangtze. The Three Gorges refers to towering limestone cliffs of the the Qutang, Wu, and Xiling gorges, which stretch for about 200 km from Fengjie (Sichun province) to Yichang (Hubei province) along the middle reaches of the Yangtze. Along with the Yellow River in the north, the Yangtze is of fundamental importance to the culture and psyche of the Chinese as well as the economic well-being of the country. At 6,300 km long, the Yangtze (meaning Long River) ranks as the third largest in the world and the largest in China. The river drains from the Tibetan Plateau in the east, flows through China’s largest and heavily polluted city, Chongqing, and enters the sea in the west near Shanghai. The catchment of the Yangtze represents 25% of entire crop land, 350 million people (33% of China’s population), 40% of grain, 70% of rice, 40% of agricultural and industrial output in China.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information

Information about the dam can be found at the following websites. Students can view maps, pictures, and read an article about the region where the Three Gorges Dam is being built in order to collect geographic information and draw inferences.

Use a transparency of the map provided of the Three Gorges Dam region (web site), or a map from a different source, to familiarize students with the location of the dam project, as well as the physical and human characteristics of the region. The September 1997 edition of National Geographic includes photos and a map. Point out the location of the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River.

Encourage students to work in groups to access the website and to share information from other reading materials. Be sure to preview the information yourself to provide appropriate purpose questions for their research.

Note: The September 1997 edition of National Geographic includes photos and a map.


Strategy 2

Comparing and Contrasting

Use the Similarities/Differences Graphic Organizer to encourage students to draw inferences about the significance of the differences between two items or concepts. The similarities/differences process is a helpful technique for clarifying and understanding concepts. Using this type of diagram helps to organize thinking.

Have students work in pairs. One student reads some facts on TGD and then reads the photo journal, The Three Gorges. Distribute the graphic organizer and have them develop the similarities and differences. Have two groups of students meet to share their graphic organizers.

Discuss as a class, encourage them to speculate about why people perceive the same place differently. Show them photos “Yangtze” to see the enormity of the dam. Discuss any bias that might be portrayed in these pictures.

Printable Student View

Similarities/Differences of Three Gorges Photos

Some Facts on the TGD
The Three Gorges






















Scoring Guide

Check for Understanding

  • Have the class make some conclusions based on information from the chart. Have them support their conclusions with details from the chart.

Activity 1

Activity 1

Essential Question

Why do humans modify their environment?


The construction of the colossal Hoover Dam in the 1930s marked the start of the economic and political trend for large dams which still continues today. Big dams are constructed for water supply, flood protection or hydroelectric power generation. The environmental impacts of large dams on river systems are well documented. The most controversial large dam scheme in the world is undoubtedly the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China. When completed, this will be the largest man-made structure in the world. It has been constructed not only for the purposes of flood protection, navigation and hydroelectric power generation, but perhaps as a political statement to the world. However, such a large structure inevitably has considerable impacts on the local inhabitants and the environment.


Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Goal Setting

  • Use a motivating website such as this one to begin your discussion of dam building: Ask students why beavers build a dam. Do they build dams for the same reasons that people do?
  • Provide students with the geography standards to be addressed in this module. Discuss the standards in light of what they have just discussed.
  • Relate the standards to the goals of this module.
  • Continue to discuss the standards as students do other activities in the unit.

Check for Understanding

  • Have students orally review the standards for this unit. Have them explain them in their own words.

Strategy 2

Accessing Prior Knowledge

  • Explain to students that in order to engage in problem solving or analyzing issues, they need to gather new information and link it to what they already know. This process is referred to as “constructing meaning.”
  • Explain that prior information helps them bring meaning to new information. Ask students to reflect on the following key questions:
    • What do you already know about why people build dams?
    • What issues do we need to explore in the Three Gorges Dam?
  • Use a KWHL Chart to help students access prior knowledge and construct meaning from the new information they will be learning.
  • Have students work in pairs or form groups of three. Each group is to generate as many descriptive words as they can that might describe what they know about the Know and the Want of why people build dams. Give the group time to generate these descriptors, and then ask a member of each group to share the list of qualities that their group associated with dams.
  • Once students have shared their descriptors, have them generate several summary statements that they think generally describe why people build dams (e.g., “To control flooding” “To generate power” “To improve navigation and decrease transportation costs” “To provide water resources”).

Printable Student View


Why Do People Build Dams?

What We Know
about Dams
What We Want to Find Out 
about Dams
What We Learned
How Can We Learn More











Categories of Information we expect to use:






Check for Understanding

  • Ask students to predict what impact they think dams have had on the environment and people historically. You may want to post these statements and predictions. As the students continue in the unit, periodically come back to them and have students see if their original ideas still hold up. At the conclusion of the unit, ask the students the L and the H.



Strategy 3

Note-taking and Reciprocal Learning

  • Distribute “Resource Packet” Information on:
  • Have students work in cooperative groups to become “expert” on one section of the resource packet. Have them share their expertise with other groups. Summarize the information in a full-class discussion.
  • Have students take notes during the discussion and add the information to their notebooks as the teacher records it on a transparency.
  • Use the Case Analysis Worksheet to use their knowledge to think about issues related to the dams and to make connections to potential problems.

Check for Understanding

  • Have groups share their information with the total class, encouraging students to add additional information to their Case Analysis Worksheet.

Skills and Best Practices

Lesson 3: Skills and Best Practices

Applying Predicting Skills

The site below is excellent for reviewing the reciprocal teaching-learning process useful in the case study situation outlined below.

Asking students to predict what will happen next is a high level thinking skill. Students need to draw on information they have learned in class or just read about, process the information and refine their thinking about it, and then make predictions about the next logical event. The reciprocal teaching-learning process is based on this assumption. For example, students go through several steps in the process, beginning with a prediction and ending with a prediction of what might come next. The steps in the process include:

  • Predicting
  • Questioning
  • Clarifying
  • Summarizing
  • (Predicting)

This process can be applied to real life situations. For example, a class discussion of a recent world event can be analyzed using this process. A class discussion reacting to news that there has been a terrorist attack in a major city will:

  • Mentally begin predicting the consequences of such an attack. They will look at the headline and pictures of the event and draw some tentative conclusions and want to know more about really happened.
  • They will begin asking questions of others and themselves about the event
  • Reading the newspaper article will provide some answers to the questions, but more importantly will generate more questions
  • Class discussions will begin to clarify what actually happened and begin to separate fact from fiction and overreaction
  • Someone in the class or the teacher will summarize what they now know about the situation and what is still undetermined
  • Based on this information, students can begin to make some predictions about the next steps to be taken to deal with the situation. They will then seek out additional information in the next several days to validate or revise their predictions.

Using Jigsaw to Share Information

Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy designed to use the team to obtain and share information with the home group. The site below will be very helpful to those not familiar with cooperative learning strategies and would like to know more about them.

The essential components of cooperation are positive interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, interpersonal and small group skills, and group processing (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1993). Systematically structuring those basic elements into group learning situations helps ensure cooperative efforts and enables the disciplined implementation of cooperative learning for long-term success.

Using Prior Knowledge to Teach a New Concept

Reading strategies often provide pathways for looking at events in the real world. In fact, successful teaching is based on the ability to transfer skills learned in the classroom to real life. Using prior knowledge to learn a new idea or concept in social studies is a good example.

What are the thinking strategies that all proficient readers use as they read?

  • Determining What is Important – Identifying themes and diminishing focus on less important ideas or pieces of information
  • Drawing Inferences – Combining background knowledge and textual information to draw conclusions and interpret facts
  • Using Prior Knowledge – Building on previous knowledge and experiences to aid in comprehension of the text
  • Asking Questions – Wondering and inquiring about the book before, during, and after reading
  • Monitoring Comprehension and Meaning – Using an inner voice to think about if the text makes sense or not
  • Creating Mental Images – Implementing the five senses to build images in the mind that enhance the experience of reading

Now think about a new concept, event, or theme that you want to introduce in social studies. How important are the above steps in this process? How important is the use of prior knowledge in this process?

Skills and Best Practices

Lesson 2: Skills and Best Practices

The Constructivist Classroom

Constructivist classrooms are structured so that learners are immersed in experiences within which they may engage in meaning-making inquiry, action, imagination, invention, interaction, hypothesizing and personal reflection. Teachers need to recognize how people use their own experiences, prior knowledge and perceptions, as well as their physical and interpersonal environments to construct knowledge and meaning. The goal is to produce a democratic classroom environment that provides meaningful learning experiences for autonomous learners.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

This site provides a research-based rationale for using constructivist strategies in the classroom including such things as:

  • The brain is a parallel processor”. It simultaneously processes many different types of information, including thoughts, emotions, and cultural knowledge. Effective teaching employs a variety of learning strategies.
  • “Learning engages the entire physiology”. Teachers can’t address just the intellect.
  • “The search for meaning is innate” Effective teaching recognizes that meaning is personal and unique, and that students’ understandings are based on their own unique experiences.
  • “The search for meaning occurs through ‘patterning’ “. Effective teaching connects isolated ideas and information with global concepts and themes.
  • “Emotions are critical to patterning” Learning is influenced by emotions, feelings, and attitudes.
  • “The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously”. People have difficulty learning when either parts or wholes are overlooked.
  • “Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception”. Learning is influenced by the environment, culture, and climate.
  • “Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes” Students need time to process ‘how’ as well as ‘what’ they’ve learned.
  • “We have at least two different types of memory: a spatial memory system, and a set of systems for rote learning”. Teaching that heavily emphasizes rote learning does not promote spatial, experienced learning and can inhibit understanding.
  • “We understand and remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory” Experiential learning is most effective.
  • “Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat”. The classroom climate should be challenging but not threatening to students.
  • “Each brain is unique. Teaching must be multifaceted to allow students to express preferences.

Concept Development

Teach higher-order thinking while you’re teaching concepts, skills, and content!

The indispensable guide below combines proven curriculum design with teaching methods that encourage students to learn concepts as well as content and skills for deep understanding across all subject areas. Synthesizing Lynn Erickson’s past 15 years of field work with teachers, curriculum developers, teacher educators, and instructional leaders, this resource offers a complete guide to designing curriculum and instruction that foster the continuous growth and development of a student’s critical, abstract, and creative learning skills. Educators will learn how to:

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom
Authored by: H. Lynn Erickson, Educational Consultant, Everett, WA

  • Bring coherence and clarity to high-quality curriculum design and instructional planning
  • Teach the way that students’ minds learn best
  • Encourage students’ creative and abstract thinking, regardless of level or subject area
  • Gain the support of principals and district administrators

Using Complex Sources

For most people, being able to read and being able to understand what they are reading are key to their ability to creatively and effectively process information and live successful lives.

The site below discusses the following elements as critical in helping students understand complex information in a text or other primary or secondary social studies sources of information:

  • Teach decoding skills
  • Encourage the development of sight words
  • Teach students to use semantic context cues to evaluate whether decodings are accurate
  • Teach vocabulary meanings
  • Encourage extensive reading
  • Encourage students to ask themselves why the ideas related in a text make sense
  • Teach self-regulated use of comprehension strategies

Each topic is addressed in detail in this site.

Skills and Best Practices

Lesson 1: Skills and Best Practices

Questioning Skills

The article referenced below is well worth reading and worth the effort of obtaining from your school library or community library. The article points out two critical ideas about the use of questioning skills in the social studies classroom:

The Use of Questions in Teaching 
Meredith D. Gall
Review of Educational Research, Vol. 40, No. 5 (Dec., 1970) , pp. 707-721

  • The use of questions is one of the basic tools of the teacher for promoting student thinking and learning.
  • Although teachers use an abundance of questions in the classroom, there is a need for teachers to learn how to ask the right questions to get the response they are after.
  • What research says about creating and using effective questions in the classroom.

The Use of Inquiry in the Social Studies Classroom

The site below provides a research-based rationale for the use of inquiry in the social studies classroom. In addition, it provides excellent examples of strategies that encourage higher order thinking by students. For example:

  • Developing Inquiry Skills Through the Use of Case Studies
  • Inquiring About the Local Community
  • Using The Storypath Method as an Inquiry Method
  • The Place of Spacial Dynamics in the Classroom
  • Components of a WebQuests
  • Ideas for Virtual Museums
  • Citizen Action and Service Learning

The site also includes numerous references to other sites and to hard copy publications.

Using Historic Research and Interpretation Skills
in the Social Studies Classroom

The site below was developed by the Lawrence University History Department for its undergraduates has significance for both high school students and professional historians. High school students will find the following sections particularly useful:

Professor Rael’s guide includes sound advice on how to go about historical research, but only in general terms and as part of a larger discussion of the skills undergraduates need for all phases of studying history. A number of sites take a more closely focused approach, teaching the basic steps of doing historical research. Two, which were created in connection with college courses on historical methods, stand out as noteworthy examples of how to do so through the use of case studies:

Lesson 3

Essential Questions

To what extent can a pandemic disease affect a society?
To what extent are pandemics inevitable?


Nearly three decades ago, the HIV virus that causes AIDS was first identified. Awareness of AIDS and its economic impact upon human society has increased with its spread. First seen as a disease exclusive to homosexuals and drug users, it has become a global health epidemic and a threat to development in Third World countries.

Globally, the disease has spread shockingly fast. The 2005 United Nations report on AIDS estimates that 40.3 million people are infected with HIV. At least 4.3 million people alone became infected in 2005. Ninety percent of new infections are in developing countries, where life expectancy has decreased by up to 20 years. AIDS has killed more than 20 million people in 25 years.

Africa alone accounts for 67% of the total number of infected persons worldwide, though the beleaguered continent accounts for only 11% of total world population. One in 12 African adults is infected. Sub-Saharan Africa has just over 10% of the world’s population, but is home to more than 60% of all people living with HIV—25.8 million. In 2005, an estimated 3.2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa became newly infected, while 2.4 million adults and children died of AIDS.

When backed by political commitment, treatment programs and behavior modification programs are successful in slowing the rate of spread of HIV. Nevertheless, the failure of African and world leaders to recognize the gravity of the pandemic and the failure of governments from developed nations to respond effectively to the crisis leaves the future of Africa in doubt.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Accessing Prior Knowledge

Ask students What do you think about when someone mentions the continent of Africa?Conduct a Think/Pair/Share activity in which students brainstorm possible responses individually, then in pairs, and then share ideas with the class.

New information is best learned by relating it to prior knowledge. Explain to students that a “Taking-Stock Table” is a strategy for linking new information to prior knowledge.

Have students complete the Taking-Stock table and fill in Columns 1 and 2 first independently and later as a class. Ideas can be written on the chalkboard or on a transparency. Corrections to student misunderstandings found in Column 1 can be made later in the module (see Strategy 6) as a check for understanding. Inform students that they will fill out the third column later in the unit.

Have students read The Shape of Africa by Jared Diamond. As in Activity 2, Strategy 3 of this module, students should use a more complex source of information by following these steps:

  • Relate it to prior knowledge – review what students already know about Africa.
  • Help students break the reading into parts.
  • Add relevant vocabulary to the Word Wall (e.g. disease burden).

Have students discuss the article using this question and a map of Africa as a guide:

  • Why does Africa continue to be shaped by its history and geography?

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • Have students use Diamond’s article to add to column 3 of the Taking-Stock table.
  • How did the additions to column 3 after reading the article by Jared Diamond change the information in columns 1 and 2?

Strategy 2

Extending and Refining: Inquiry Chart

Have students complete an Inquiry Chart to answer this question: 
What is the best way to organize a global response to the AIDS pandemic?

Post several questions for students to explore. These are found at the top of each individual column. The rows are for recording, in summary form, the information you think you already know and the key ideas pulled from several different sources of information. The final row gives you a chance to pull together the ideas into a general summary or write new questions to which you still need answers. It’s at this time you’ll also try to resolve competing ideas found in the separate sources or, even better, develop new questions to explore based on any conflicting or incomplete information.

As students begin their study of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, these powerpoint slides from the World Health Organization and United Nations should be used to identify the extent of the problem. Have students examine the World Population of AIDS geo-graphic representation. It shows how nations and continents would look if their size were determined by the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

These websites and others with similar information may be given to students to use for their focused research:

Printable Student View


The AIDS Pandemic in Africa

How does HIV/AIDS cause disease?What is the extent of the economic and social impact of the AIDS pandemic in Africa?How are non-governmental organizations and world governments cooperating to fight AIDS?

What do I already know?


What did I learn from researching?


What questions do I have?


Annotated Bibliographic Entries

How did I use the website provided?


Printable Student View

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • Have students read this article, A World Without Aids, on the creation of an AIDS vaccine.
    1. Should the governments of developed nations spend whatever is necessary to create a vaccine for AIDS?
    2. What impact would that have on the economies of developed nations?
  • The graph below shows the trend in the number of Americans diagnosed with AIDS, living with AIDS, and dying from AIDS from 1985 – 2003.

    1. What conclusions about the effectiveness of AIDS treatment programs can be drawn from this graph?
    2. How might the evidence in this graph support changes to the U.S. government AIDS treatment and prevention policy?

Strategy 3

Extending and Refining: Reading for Information & Jigsaw

Remind students that information-gathering through reading and analysis of images is a purposeful activity that requires specific strategies and skills, as indicated in the chart below.

Why read for information?
Strategies and Skills to guide Reading for Information
Develop global understanding
  • Summarize the text looking for the main ideas, significant details, and underlying meaning.
Develop interpretation
  • Compare and contrast information.
  • Arrange events in chronological order.
  • Find cause and effect.
  • Make and confirm predictions.
  • Distinguish among facts, supported inferences, and opinions.
Form a personal response
  • Evaluate the new information against what we already know.
  • Evaluate the usefulness of the information.
  • Distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.
Critically respond
  • Analyzing the tone of the passage to evaluate how language is used to inform or to persuade.

Have students read one of the following folders containing articles and images.

Folder #1: How does the HIV/AIDS pandemic impact Africa?

Folder #2: What is the global response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa?

Students should work cooperatively in groups of four to answer the question related to each folder. Within each group, have one student complete the Strategies and Skills for each of the rows in the chart above. For example, one student working on developing a global understanding will be assigned the task of summarizing the text looking for the main ideas, significant details, and underlying meaning for the group.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • Once students are completed with their task, use a Jigsaw strategy in which all students working on developing a global understanding share their summaries, all students developing interpretation might compare their predictions or arrangement of events in chronological order, all students forming a personal response might distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, and all students critically responding share their analysis and evaluation of the language used to persuade.

Strategy 4

Application: Making Predictions

Students should choose one sub-Saharan African nation to research its history of HIV/AIDS, the impact of AIDS on the nation, and the effectiveness of strategies used to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • Give a news report from the sub-Saharan African nation you selected on the AIDS pandemic in the year 2056: What happened to Africa and in the nation you selected?

Lesson 2

Essential Question

To what extent can a pandemic disease affect a society?


The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 20 million people worldwide. It affected 25% of the U.S. population and crippled society. In one year, the average American life expectancy dropped by 12 years. The graph below shows the particularly brutal months of late 1918 in the United States. At that time, influenza had killed more than any disease in recorded history.


The primary source graph below shows the large increase in deaths in four major world cities over a two-month period in late 1918.

Source: National Museum of Health and Medicine

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Constructivist Approaches

Post the essential question for students. Conduct a Think/Pair/Share activity in which students brainstorm possible responses individually, then in pairs, and then share ideas with the class.

Have students research the 1918 influenza pandemic in the U.S. and complete a chart like the one below to categorize their notes.

Printable Student View

Evidence from
Primary Sources
Evidence from
Secondary Sources
Perceived causes of the pandemic  
Actual causes of the pandemic  
Effects of 
the pandemic
Medical response to the pandemic  
Government response to the pandemic  

Printable Student View

Possible online sources (including an MP3 video):

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

Have students make generalizations that compare the 1918 influenza pandemic in the U.S. to the European pandemic in the 14th century. Examples might include:

  • More people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic even though the medical technology was more advanced.
  • More people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic than the European pandemic in the 14th century because there were more people.
  • The 1918 pandemic was caused by a virus instead of bacteria.
  • The ways that people coped with the pandemic in different times depended on their degree of medical knowledge.

Strategy 2

Extending and Refining: Concept Development

Have students Think/Pair/Share to add, delete, or substitute the information in their charts from strategy 1 using the following information.

Printable Student View

  1. Examine the historical sources at these two internet sites.
  2. Create a slide show in which you categorize or group together photographs from the first two internet sites. Identify labels or names for your groupings.
    • Why should they be grouped together? Defend your responses.
  3. Examine how three American cities were affected by the 1918 pandemic by clicking on City Snapshots: Influenza’s effects on three cities at
    • What information was added, deleted, or substituted in your chart based on the photographs? Defend the reasons for your choices.
    • How has seeing the photographs revealed different insights into the effect of the pandemic on American society?

Printable Student View

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

Interpret these published documents from different levels of American government.

More people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic even though the medical technology was more advanced.

  1. What do these primary sources reveal about the role of government at different levels during the pandemic?
  2. What do these primary sources reveal about the medical knowledge of the early 20thcentury? Would the advice on how to care for and avoid influenza have worked?

Strategy 3

Application: Using Complex Sources

Model how to use a more complex source of information by following these steps:

  • Relate it to prior knowledge – review what students already know about the impact of the 1918 influenza.
  • Help students break the reading into parts.
  • Develop a working knowledge of the vocabulary by starting a Word Wall of vocabulary words important to this unit and add to the word wall as students move through the module. These terms that come out of the discussion should be used by students as they continue their learning. Some examples as instruction progresses through the activities are:

    criteria or criterion 

  • Have students work cooperatively to read one of the following documents and apply this process.

Printable Student View

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • Use the vocabulary of the document you read and the Word Wall as you respond to these questions.
    1. What policy decisions should a government make to limit the negative effects of a pandemic?
    2. What priorities should set criteria for those decisions?
    3. What should be the role of the government if a pandemic strikes?
  • This 1918 photograph shows a conductor in Seattle, WA, refusing to allow passengers without masks to board the public train.

    Why would transportation officials be justified in refusing passage on public transportation? Explain your answer.

Lesson 1

Essential Question

What can be learned from studying the effects of a pandemic in one time and place?


Although it had struck ancient Europe in the past, the Black Death, or bubonic plague, returned to European civilization in 1348, spreading westward from Asia. Within a few years, up to 50% of the population in European nations had died.

© Wellcome Library, London

The long gown in the above image, made of waxed linen, hid the identity of the physician. His clothing was designed to protect him from exposure to disease. The stick was used to remove the clothes of the patient or the corpse, while the beaked mask contained herbs to filter or purify the air, since the theory was that the plague arose from vapors or “miasmas.”
Image Source:

The most common form of the plague (bubonic) gave the disease its common name. Swellings appeared on a victim’s neck, armpits or groin that usually signaled the victim had a few days to live. This highly contagious disease was spread through the bites of infected fleas on rats and humans. Other forms of the plague attacked the respiratory and circulatory system.

Without useful medical technology or any way to understand the scientific causes of the disease, Europeans gave numerous reasons for it – some religious, some supernatural, and some worldly – and responded to its deadly effects in ways that can tell us about how people lived in the 14th century.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Inquiry and Questioning Skills

Post the essential question for students. Conduct a Think/Pair/Share activity in which students consider possible responses which might be used to guide the research into the causes and effects of a pandemic disease. Work from individual association to sharing with a partner and then collaborating as a group to develop the research web.

Place the questions created by students in a graphic organizer web.

Printable Student View

What can be learned from studying the effects of a pandemic in one time and place?

Note to Teacher:

The individual questions that the students identify should become part of an overall strategy of research — the problem of where and how to find the answers. Ask students to develop a research strategy as a class that would help them answer the essential question.

Avoid student responses that lack specificity. Some might suggest “the internet” or “books,” but such a response is too vague. What type of internet site (i.e. museum of a place affected by a pandemic) would be useful? A historical researcher might start with finding a collection of those types of internet sites as a strategy.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

You are asked to research the effectiveness of the Red Cross in helping refugees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (2006).

  • What words would you type into a search engine to maximize the efficiency and accuracy of your research?

Strategy 2

Extending and Refining: Historical Research Skills

Have students work in pairs to uncover and discuss what each knows about life in medieval Europe, and the causes and/or effects of the plague that hit medieval Europe in the 14th century. As a guide, students should use a research web placed in the context of the Black Death.

Have students research online, from their textbooks, or from a short video. Students should compile their notes in a chart like the one below that discusses life in medieval Europe, and the causes and/or effects of the plague that hit medieval Europe in the 14th century.

Students should create an annotated bibliography like that required for the National History Day contest. The site includes examples and instructions.

Printable Student View

Daily Life in 
Medieval Europe
Causes of the 
Black Death
Effects of the 
Black Death





Teachers with access to Discovery Education’s United Streaming® might choose this video for students to watch: Black Death (1347-1351 A.D.), The. United Learning. 1997. unitedstreaming. 24 April 2006

Strategy 3

Extending and Refining: Historical Interpretation

Have students examine and interpret artwork that depict the plague.

Printable Student View

Gabriele de’ Mussi gave this account of the 1348 Italian plague:

“Tell, O Sicily, and ye, the many islands of the sea, the judgments of God. Confess, O Genoa, what thou hast done, since we of Genoa and Venice are compelled to make God’s chastisement manifest. Alas! our ships enter the port, but of a thousand sailors hardly ten are spared. We reach our homes; our kindred and our neighbors come from all parts to visit us. Woe to us for we cast at them the darts of death! Whilst we spoke to them, whilst they embraced us and kissed us, we scattered the poison from our lips. Going back to their homes, they in turn soon infected their whole families, who in three days succumbed, and were buried in one common grave. Priests and doctors visiting the sick returned from their duties ill, and soon were numbered with the dead. O death! cruel, bitter, impious death! which thus breaks the bonds of affection and divides father and mother, brother and sister, son and wife. Lamenting our misery, we feared to fly, yet we dared not remain.”

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Sites for more artwork:

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • How do primary sources reveal the way in which medieval Europeans reacted to the plague? Explain your answer with historical evidence.

Strategy 4

Application: Discussion Web

Have students use research collected in Strategy 2 to conduct a discussion web in which they respond to a question. The question for this discussion web is: 

What can be learned from studying the historical effects of the 14th century Black Death pandemic in Europe?

How to conduct a discussion web:

  • A student draws on research conducted in the previous strategy, the class textbook, from previous classroom discussions, and from personal experiences as he/she thinks about the question and discusses with a partner.
  • The partners must come up with evidence that supports a response. Opinions are fine as long as they are supported by information from the text or by personal experience.
  • Then the partners are paired with another set of partners to form a discussion group. The members of the group share their responses. Together, they reach a consensus on a point of view. Then student groups have the opportunity to share their point of view with the entire class.
  • As a follow-up, students might be asked to debate the question, to support and write their individual opinions, or to discuss as a class.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

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  • This map shows the path the plague might have taken as it spread from Asia across Europe in the 14th century.

    Which is most likely responsible for the path of the plague’s spread?

    1. medieval trade routes*
    2. invading armies
    3. religious crusades
    4. funding of exploration
  • How might the way in which medieval Europeans have lived helped to spread the Black Death? Explain your answer with historical evidence.

Formative Assessment

Activity 3: Formative Assessment

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Have the class look in the daily newspaper for an example of a violation of individual rights.

Ask them to:

  • State the facts of the situation
  • Tell why they think this is a violation of individual rights
  • Support their position with facts from the newspaper article