Viruses, Part 4- Ebola

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Students will examine the medical issues surrounding the care of Ebola patients and write a persuasive paragraph supporting their opinion for or against caring for Ebola patients in the U.S.

Big Idea

The Ebola epidemic teaches us that science really happens outside the classroom.


5 minutes

Ask students, “What are the modes of viral transmission?” and “What factors affect the rate of viral transmission?” These review questions serve as a quick formative assessment of content that has been taught in lessons: Virus part 1, Virus part 2, and Virus part 3 .  

Ideally, these questions should be easily answered by students at this point, given the prior lessons on viruses.  However, as educators we know can never make assumptions about the knowledge that exists within the student group, even when we have taught the content so listen for misconceptions and lack of understanding about the characteristics of viruses. 

It is also important to note that some students will not be able to answer these review questions because the terms used in the questions are different from previously used terms.  I use the term, "mode" instead of "method" so that students will learn that "mode"means the same as “method”.  I also used the term "rate"  in the question because I want them to  identify that "rate" means the same as "speed".  There are students who cannot answer these questions; not because they don’t know the specific methods of transmission or the factors that influence the spread of transmission but because they do not know what the terms, "mode" and "rate" mean.  Asking questions using different terms with the same meaning helps students build academic literacy. 

Be sure to make a point to call on students who aren't raising their hands to respond in order to gain a sense of the level of understanding within the silent population of students in the classroom. 

Introduce New Material

30 minutes

Tell students that they can likely predict from the warm-up that we are continuing our discussion about viruses.  Ask students to share what they know about the Ebola virus epidemic. Allow 3-4 students to share what they know about the virus. 

Encourage students to use the word wall vocabulary that has been taught (epidemic, transmission, virulent, etc..).   Listen out for use of non-specific words like "thing" and redirect students to refer to the word wall when they are responding.  Listen for misconceptions  but, at this point in the lesson, defer making corrections about any misinformed statements they make.  

Make a point of telling them that you are not going to correct any misconceptions that they may state at this time because you want them to make those corrections on their own after completing today’s assignment.  Sometimes we miss a great opportunity for student initiated self-correction and growth when we don’t give students a chance to make adjustments in their own thinking and we make the necessary corrections in thinking for them.

Introduce the Frontline pbs documentary, Ebola Outbreak, located on the Frontline website at .  Explain that this video is current, having been just taped in August of this year. 

I told my students that watching this video helped me realize that I really had not appreciated the impact that the Ebola virus is having on families and the world until I was able to see the “face” of the virus in this documentary.  My empathy for the affected people grew based on what I viewed in the documentary.  

I chose this video as the basis of the lesson because it provides an opportunity for students to observe viral transmission in a real-world situation, after having spent the three previous lessons learning about viruses mostly from notes and a fictional account, Contagion.  

The documentary allows students to view the challenges of halting the spread of the disease and consider what measures need to be taken to limit exposure to the virus in a real situation.  They will be able to see how preventive practices can limit disease spread and note the human factors that play a role in disease spread, as well.

Also, I chose this video because students are presented with a situation that likely challenges their thinking about an event like the Ebola epidemic as something that is happening outside of them and the U.S.  After viewing the video, some will begin to realize that  the impact of Ebola is happening to all of us, as part of an inter-related global community.


Guided Practice

5 minutes

Inform students that three Ebola patients were recently brought to be treated in the U.S, specifically two in Atlanta.  Ask them to take two minutes to silently consider whether they feel that these patients should have been brought into the U.S. for treatment or not.

After a short time of silent reflection, talk about the value and use of our opinions in real-world matters. Present the persuasive writing style and its purpose. Using the board for visual observation, model how to write a brief 3-4 sentence persuasive paragraph on a related writing prompt.

In the interest of time, prepare a paragraph of 3-4 sentences before class. Don't show the completed paragraph but write it as if you are writing the paragraph the first time. But, you will know what you will write in the paragraph before you write on the board.  This type of "prep" also allows you to be intentional about what you want to model and say as you "think aloud".I used mandated vaccination as my example.   I chose a related topic because it allowed me to model the use of the content specific vocabulary they had been taught.

 "Think-aloud" as you write on the board so that students will be able to see and hear how you reason, process and edit your thoughts as you compose the paragraph.  Be sure to point out the key components of persuasive writing as you develop sentences that address each of the components of persuasive writing.

Try not to use the same writing prompt that students will have to complete during the Independent Practice because some will find it hard to write in their own "voice" after seeing you write about the same topic.



Independent Practice

10 minutes

Having modeled how to write in the persuasive writing style, instruct students to write a paragraph in the format of a letter (5-7 sentences) either in support for or against bringing Ebola patients into the U.S. for treatment, with the target audience being the Governor of Georgia. Remind students to:

  • Present their viewpoint.
  • Provide evidence to support their viewpoint.
  • Consider different viewpoints and respond by explaining why their viewpoint is still best.
  • Write a strong conclusion.

I chose the governor of Georgia as the target audience because the Ebola patients were brought here to Atlanta where we live.  The proximity of the care issue really gave my students a greater sense of personal relevance around the topic.  You can choose the U.S Surgeon General instead.  Or, you can ask students to write their persuasive paragraph from the perspective of a student who does reside in Atlanta.

After giving students a chance to organize their thoughts on paper, allow students wanting to share to read their written work in class. Remind students that we respectfully listen to others, even when they don't share our point of view. I usually read 1-2 letters to get the process started.  Allow 2-4 opposing viewpoints to be shared whole group.

As a facilitator,  refrain from making judgment statements after they speak.  Act only as a facilitator, reminding student to use the academic discourse prompts when they want to respond to another student. Providing students a forum in which they can share their viewpoints will enable the teacher to see how students' global perspectives grow about a real-world science crisis. 

Collect the student work. Review the student work as a formative assessment of students’ ability to write a persuasive paragraph. The quality of the work products will aid your planning for future writing tasks.  The two writing samples I include represent the spectrum of writing that one might see in a classroom.  The letter written in support of treating Ebola patients in the U.S meets the learning target by demonstration of an ability to write persuasively, cite facts and use both writing mechanics and the vocabulary correctly.  The letter written against treating Ebola patients in the U.S. is a less strong demonstration of writing mechanics.  Specific feedback to this student would provide recognition of those aspects of the writing that are strong, while identification of those that are not. This task allows students to think critically about their own writing.

 Because of their interest in the subject matter, I found that students were willing to write much more extensively than I typically see with writing prompts.  They seemed to connect with the opportunity to be "heard" in a persuasive letter to our head state government official.

Lesson Close

5 minutes

Begin the  close of the lesson by referring back to the statements that were noted on the board by students at the beginning of the lesson. Ask students if they would eliminate any of the posted statements now that they know more about the virus. Make any edits necessary to correct misconceptions that were shared at the beginning of class.

Note: Watch the video clip to observe one student's change of heart, after initially being vehemently opposed to treating Ebola patients in the U.S. The student's ability to articulate her new opinion reflects empathy that was fostered after she saw the devastation the Ebola virus has caused in West Africa.

Close by reminding students that the science that we teach in the classroom is relevant and entirely applicable to our everyday circumstances.