Contextualizing COVID-19
A World History, United States History, English Language Arts, and Biology lesson that allows students to compare pandemics throughout history. Students analyze multimedia primary and secondary sources to contextualize COVID-19.

Today’s Activities


WatchCrash Course World History: Disease!.

  • In your opinion, which of the pandemics discussed in the video had the largest impact on human history?
  • How do the pandemics you selected compare to COVID-19?

Watch this simple video to learn about COVID-19


Read and annotate the essay titled “The Coronavirus, Animals, and Human Health” (pages 1-3). 

  • Consider the following questions/prompts as you read:
    • What is the relationship between disease transmission and human/environment interactions throughout history?
    • What factors increase the risk of zoonotic disease transmission?
    • According to experts, what are some measures to prevent or slow the spread of zoonotic disease transmission?
    • Describe how modern conditions (i.e., trade, travel, etc.) influence the spread of disease.

Watch Vox’s “How Wildlife Trade is Linked to Coronavirus.”

Consider how the essay relates to the video. What information does the video add to your understanding of COVID-19’s origins, transmission, and effects?

Read these visually supported stories about Covid-19


Read the primary sources from the COVID-19 pandemic (page 4-5).

  • Discuss the following questions with a friend, sibling, parent or teacher:
    • What are the large-scale, global impacts of the coronavirus?
    • How does the coronavirus impact individuals? How has it impacted you?
    • Reread source #3 from the World Health Organization. Identify some protective practices you and your family are using during the current pandemic.
    • What are the economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak? See this article from the BBC for interesting data visualization.

Read the primary sources from Black Death (pages 6-7).

  • Discuss the following questions with a friend, sibling, parent or teacher:
    • What are the large-scale, global impacts of the Black Death?
    • How did the coronavirus impact individuals?
    • Compare how residents of Europe (sources #5,6,8,9) and the Middle East (#7,10) sought to cure the Black Death.
    • How did the Black Death impact regional economies? 

Create a Venn Diagram using the information you gathered from the two sets of primary sources. Identify how the Black Death and COVID-19 compare and specify differences.

Explain to your parent or sibling what you now know about covid-19 and ask two questions you have.


Visit any of the following resources to learn about the Spanish Flu, the deadliest recent pandemic.

Create another Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the Spanish Flu, Black Death, and COVID-19. 

Discuss your learning with a sibling, friend, parent, or teacher.


Examine the pandemic infographic from Visual Capitalist to develop a deeper understanding of pandemics through history.

Review the most recent COVID-19 data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Listen to Sam Harris’ podcast interview with infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalija.

Watch parts two and three of the Great Courses lecture on the Spanish Flu.

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In-Hand Resources


Contextualizing COVID-19 In Hand Packet

Teaching Tips

Accessibility Feature

Turning on transcripts for YouTube Videos [PDF]

Speech and Language

Focus on word study: When we know the origins and meanings of word parts, we can figure out the meaning of new words. For example, the word “pandemic” comes from the Greek words “pan,” meaning ALL, and “demos,” meaning PEOPLE. What are some other words containing the Greek root “pan?”

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