Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Got Culture?: A Look at Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic Diseases

Mariah Warren, Teresa Randall, Daniel Schwarz, Ryan Rahhal | Published: July 19th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th
  • Subject Subject Science
  • Course Course Biology I, Environmental Science
  • Duration More 3-4 periods


This lesson aims to help students develop an understanding of zoonotic diseases. In this lesson, students will explore how zoonotic diseases spread.

Essential Question(s)

What are zoonotic diseases and what factors lead to their spread in human populations?



Students listen to an interview with David Quammen about COVID-19.


Students complete a digital breakout about zoonotic diseases, specifically Ebola.


Students discuss the concepts they learned in the digital breakout.


Students select a zoonotic disease to research and create a webpage of their disease.


Students evaluate and give feedback to their peers.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Bell Ringer Handout (attached; 1 per student)

  • Digital Breakout Handout (attached; 1 per student)

  • Disease Website Rubric (attached)

  • Student devices with internet access

  • Sticky easel pad paper

  • Markers (Mr. Sketch, Sharpie, etc.)

  • Pencils/pens

  • Digital breakout site

  • Disease project site


Go to slide 3. Before class begins, invite students to complete a Bell Ringer activity that will assess their prior knowledge. Give students the Bell Ringer Handout (virtual or hardcopy) and ask them to record their responses to the following questions:

  1. If there were a pandemic/zombie apocalypse, why should we choose you for our survival team?

  2. What causes diseases?

  3. What diseases can people get from animals?

Go to slide 4 to introduce the Essential Questions and then to slide 5 to introduce the Lesson Objectives.

Go to slide 6 to allow students to listen to the David Quammen interview—David Quammen: How Animal-Borne Infections Spill Over To Humans—about COVID-19. After students listen to the interview, use the I Notice, I Wonder strategy to facilitate a class discussion about the interview and revisit the Bell Ringer questions.


Go to slide 7. Provide the Digital Breakout Handout (virtual or hardcopy) to each student. Students will record their work on the handout in order to refer to later in the class. The first portion of the handout uses the TIP Chart strategy where students will record Terms, Information, and Pictures for the vocabulary they are exposed to during the digital breakout.

Go to slide 8 to explain the process of a digital breakout. If this is your first time using digital breakouts with students it may take scaffolding to ensure students are navigating through the breakout.

Allow students to work through the Zoonotic Disease Digital Breakout and move through the classroom to support productive struggle. You can allow students to work in pairs. Remind students to record the things they find in the breakout handout.

As students begin the breakout, ask them if they have ever been in an escape room before. Tell them that this breakout will be similar to an escape room. As they work together and listen for clues, more and more pieces of the puzzle will come together. With each correct guess they make, they will be able to move on to the next lock, and they will come closer to completing the breakout successfully.

Reference the Teacher Guide to help scaffold students’ work in the breakout.


Go to slide 9. Have a discussion with students after the digital breakout (this can include reviewing the answers) and before moving to the Extend activity. Discussion topics could include:

  • How do cell and virus structures differ and how does that affect our response to different diseases?

  • Zoonotic diseases are becoming more common. Why do you think that is?

  • Why are zoonotic diseases more prevalent in specific areas of the world? (A hot zone map can be used to show this.)

  • If you have discussed transcription and translation, compare how mRNA and DNA vaccines work.

  • Scientists often theorize on the "Next Big One (NBO)," the next global pandemic. Do you think there will be a next big one?

  • What have we learned living through a global pandemic?

Throughout the discussion, have students make an Anchor Chart of the important ideas of Zoonotic Diseases and clarify any misconceptions.


Go to slide 10. Have students return to their partners to discuss the new things that they have learned. Together, students should create a page with Google Sites. The webpage should focus on a specific zoonotic disease (example here). Make sure to emphasize to students that the five criteria listed in the slide must be included in their web pages.


Go to slide 11. Allow pairs to form groups of 4 students. Have students trade projects and give feedback using the Exclaim and Question Strategy. The projects will serve as a summative assessment, which you will grade using the attached Disease Website Rubric.