Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Death Is in the Air

Discovering the Relationship Between Overcrowding and the Spread of Diseases

K20 Center, Erica Stewart | Published: July 18th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject
  • Course Course Biology I, Environmental Science
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1-2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 90 minutes


Students will examine the black plague and understand how it was spread and how it could have been prevented.

Essential Question(s)

How does innovation both help and hurt people?



Students will create Profiles as a citizen of England in September of 1348.


Students will walk around and exchange profile information with five of their classmates.


Students will read an article about the bubonic plague.


Students explore the validity of a doctor’s statement from 1350 as it relates to how the Bubonic plague was being spread.


As a group, students write a plan on how you could have helped prevent the plague based on the scientific knowledge you have on population and the spread of diseases.


  • Blank Student Profiles (attached; one per student)

  • Partially Filled Student Profiles (attached)

  • Student Profile Options handout (attached)

  • Chart Paper

  • Back in the Day handout (attached)

  • Black Death Info handout (attached)

  • Death Is in the Air article handout (attached)


Start out by asking the students if they've ever tried to see the world from someone else's perspective. Let them respond, but quickly move towards telling them that they are going to do that today by completing a basic biography of a person from the 1340s.

Pass out one attached Blank Student Profile to each student and have them fill it out based on the character they have decided to be.


Students will walk around and exchange profile information with five of their classmates. Encourage them to mix with people that they would've if this was real. That is, nobility won't mix with the undertaker, but they would mix with other nobility or at least be in contact with the staff of their home.

After the exchange, the teacher will reveal who was infected initially with the bubonic plague and succumbed to the disease.

From there, the students will determine the chain of infection, to show how many people caught the plague and figure out who lived and who died.


Students will watch a video related to the effects of the Bubonic Plague. While watching the video, have students use the Exclaim and Question strategy to write down things that surprise them or catch their interest and what things they didn't understand or still have questions about.

Then, pass out a copy of the attached Black Death Info handout that explains the bubonic plague and was so detrimental about it to each student. Use the Jigsaw strategy for reading the story. Divide students into groups of four, and have each member read a different part of the article. Then, have each group member share out what they read about. During the sharing time, have students contribute to their Exclaim and Question list, to either see if the article answered questions or not.


Keeping the students in the same groups, give each group an attached Death Is in the Air article during the first wave of the plague in 1350 and ask the students to break the statements down by identifying the factual parts of the statement and what parts have been disproven since then.

Optional: Have students read another article about how the bubonic plague was found in fleas in Arizona in August 2017, and how there are confirmed human diagnoses of the plague in 2017.


Still within the same groups, tell students to construct a Two-Minute Documentary from the lens of a public service announcement (PSA) about what people should do to avoid getting the plague, or how to handle the situation if someone they know gets the plague. Stress to them that they need to think about the scientific knowledge they have about population and the spread of diseases.

Have students either film their PSA (if the technology is available) or present it live to the class.