Epidemics | EL Education Curriculum

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This module has been updated to reflect the changes made to the module anchor text, Patient Zero. The version of Patient Zero that EL Education referenced when writing the original module lessons has been updated. The new 2021 version is now being used (978-1773215150).  An archived version of the original module, including lessons and teacher supporting materials, is available in here: 2019 Grade 7 Module 2 (zip download).

For more details about this change, please see our FAQs.

How do epidemics begin and spread? How do human responses help or hinder during trying times? Can the way we think about medical outbreaks tell us anything about how we should think about human behavior? In this module, students explore epidemics in many forms: historical and current, medical and social. While students learn about the scientific investigation and medical intervention in these outbreaks, they also focus on the social and cultural responses to develop a model of how best to respond to challenging circumstances. Students also examine the ways that the concept of "contagion" is applied to human behavior and ultimately explore the question of why we behave the way we do.

In Unit 1, students begin exploring the history of medical epidemics and focus on people's mindsets and contributions, and how they behaved differently from those around them. Students define what a medical or biological epidemic is, answering questions such as: what characteristics do the large-scale disease outbreaks that we refer to as epidemics have in common, and how do they spread? Exploring these foundational questions about epidemics and the people who "fought" them provides the conceptual scaffolding and some of the terminology necessary for extending the study of medical epidemics to social epidemics in Unit 2. Students read three chapters from the anchor text, Patient Zero, examining the wide variety of text features and structures incorporated in each chapter of Patient Zero, as well as how major sections contribute to the whole text and the development of ideas. Students also practice determining the meanings of words and phrases, especially technical terms associated with epidemiology. In the second half of the unit, students focus more on the interactions between the individual epidemiologists or scientists, the events during the epidemics, and the ideas about disease at the time, as well as consider the mindsets, tools, and character traits that enabled the scientists to solve these medical mysteries. Students also practice determining the impact of word choice on meaning and tone. 

In Unit 2, students transfer the knowledge about how scientists think about and investigate medical epidemics to the study of social epidemics. Students are introduced to the topic of social epidemics through various articles which describe the basic terms and theories behind social and emotional contagion. They analyze the articles both for central ideas and argument in order to evaluate whether the authors of an article have provided sufficient evidence and reasoning for their claims connecting social and disease epidemics. Students respond to the broader question of how learning from social epidemics is applied to medical epidemics both in formal discussion and informative writing.

In Unit 3, students begin by listening to exemplar podcasts and reading a model podcast script about epidemics and how people responded to them. They analyze what makes these podcasts strong and build criteria for success based off of their observations. Using these models as a template, students embark on researching an epidemic of their choosing. They gather research around the epidemic stories, toolkit, character traits, and message. In triads, students plan, write, and revise a narrative nonfiction podcast script. For their end of unit assessment, students present their script, focusing on coherence and organization of information, volume, eye contact, clarity, and formal, conventional English. Next, they find sound effects, and then finally, they record and splice together the podcast. In the end, they have a podcast created with craftsmanship to publish for their classmates, school, or even the world.

Please note that students do not read about the COVID-19 pandemic in the assigned reading in this module; however, there are references to this pandemic in some of the chapters in Patient Zero. For those students who may wish to research the COVID-19 pandemic in Unit 3, there is an entire chapter in Patient Zero dedicated to this topic.

Notes from the Designer

The anchor text for the module, Patient Zero, contains references to sensitive topics such as disease and death as well as the conditions that contribute to disease. These issues must be carefully and sensitively discussed to give students context as they read the story. Consider speaking with students and families in advance, especially those who may have sensitivity to topics discussed.

As students begin to research social epidemics, they may surface topics that are relevant but inappropriate for classroom discussion. Provide clarity and guidance about what types of topics should be included in independent research.

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

What are epidemics? How do they develop? 

  • Epidemics can be medical or social. There are similarities and differences to epidemics, depending on whether they are social or medical in nature.
  • Social epidemics can be positive or negative. 
  • Epidemics spread through contagion as well as social networks.

How do people respond to an epidemic?

  • People's response to epidemics affects their overall impact. When people respond with positive character traits and logic, epidemics can be contained. When people respond with fear and selfishness, epidemics often spread.

What is the role of character and mindset in solving epidemic crises?

  • Epidemiologists can respond to epidemics with integrity, initiative, responsibility, and perseverance. Doctors or caregivers can respond to patients with compassion, respect, and empathy.

What methods and tools help people to solve epidemics?

  • People use logic, the scientific method, and innovation to solve mysterious epidemics.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block. But the module intentionally incorporates Science and Social Studies content that may align to additional teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.

Next-Generation Science Standards

A. Life Science Performance Expectation

  • MS-LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
  • MS-LS1-5: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • D2.Civ.13.6-8. Analyze the purposes, implementation, and consequences of public policies in multiple settings.
  • D2.His.14.6-8. Explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past.

Technology and Multimedia

Refer to each Unit Overview for more details, including information about what to prepare in advance.

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • Consider arranging meetings either with the experts in the field listed below, or others who may have had experience with medical or social epidemics.


  • The anchor text tells the story of epidemiologists and other medical professionals. Consider contacting local hospitals, universities, or physicians to arrange meetings with those who treat medical epidemics on the front lines. Likewise, as students explore ideas around social contagion, consider arranging meetings with sociologists, psychologists, and other professionals in the field.


  • Consider visiting sites of interest, or the organizations associated with the experts above to meet with people who research and help to solve epidemics.


  • Consider arranging meetings or outreach opportunities to help those affected by epidemics. 


  • Throughout the module, students are provided with extension opportunities in the context of the classroom, but students eager to expand their engagement with the topic can record videos of their interviews with community members and work on "mini documentaries" or write stories of the people they interview in order to share with larger audiences.


Each unit file includes supporting materials for teachers and students, including homework materials and guidance for supporting English language learners throughout the unit.


Each unit in the 6-8 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize students' understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Performance Task

A Podcast of an Epidemic

Students turn their Unit 3 script into a podcast with sound effects, music, and other podcast features (such as a variety of voices; a charismatic, engaging tone; interviews; description; etc.).

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts and resources that need to be procured. Please download the Required Trade Books and Resources Procurement List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Patient Zero
by Marilee Peters
One per student
ISBN: 9781773215150


Each module is approximately 6-8 weeks of instruction, broken into 3 units. The Module-at-a-Glance charts, available on the grade level landing pages, provide a big picture view of the module, breaking down the module into a week-by-week outline. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.

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