Build Background Knowledge: Solving Medical Epidemics | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2019 G7:M2:U1

Build Background Knowledge: Solving Medical Epidemics

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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  An archived version of the original module, including lessons and teacher supporting materials, is available here: 2019 Grade 7 Module 2 Unit 1.

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

In Unit 1, students read chapters of the text Patient Zero and explore two related questions that thread through the entire module. One question relates to the people who have sought to understand and manage epidemics: the scientists, curious individuals, and epidemiologists whom we refer to as "epidemic detectives." What were these people's mindsets and contributions, and how did they behave differently from those around them? The other question relates to what an epidemic is, in general, and what a medical or biological epidemic is, in particular. What characteristics did 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 will read three chapters from the anchor text, Patient Zero, examining examples of epidemics in the 17th century to the early 20th century. In the first half of the unit, students examine 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 will 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 among 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.

Please note that students do not read about the COVID-19 pandemic in this unit; however, there are references to this pandemic in some of the chapters in Patient Zero. Students are given opportunities to share and discuss their experiences of epidemics.

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, particularly when making connections to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

In this unit, students begin to read nonfiction texts at their level as they choose independent research reading texts. There are Independent Reading Sample Plans (see the Tools page) with ideas on how to launch independent reading. Students should complete 20 minutes of independent research reading for homework when they are not reading a chapter from the anchor text. Students should also continue independent research reading over weekends.

Please note: For the 6-8 Language Arts Curriculum, there are Teaching Notes for each unit that contain helpful information for supporting English language learners. These overview notes complement the more specific English language learner supports and differentiated materials within each lesson. You will find the Teaching Notes in the Unit download below.

CCS Standards

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Epidemics: Building Background Knowledge: Solving Medical Epidemics
  • Task:
    • Selected and constructed response questions to analyze how the author structures the text
    • Selected and constructed response questions to analyze how individuals, events, and ideas interact in the text 
  • Targets: RI.7.1, RI.7.3, RI.7.4, RI.7.5, RI.7.10, L.7.4, L.7.4a, L.7.4b, L.7.4c, L.7.4d, L.7.6
  • Texts: Patient Zero by Marilee Peters


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.

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to the EL Education curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this unit, as students read Patient Zero, they witness evidence of the following habits of character--respect, empathy, collaboration, initiative, responsibility, perseverance, citizenship, and service--and discuss what these look and sound like in the text. Also, students focus on respect, empathy, and compassion as they respond to one another's ideas and skills in written work and in discussions. Students also practice collaboration and taking initiative during discussions. They practice integrity and perseverance as they work independently on assessments. And they take responsibility for their own learning as they track progress on their assessments. 


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 10-18 lessons. The Unit-at-a-Glance charts, available on the grade-level landing pages, break down each unit's lessons, showing CCS standards, agenda breakdown, daily learning targets, and ongoing assessments. The charts also indicate which lessons include mid- and end of unit assessments and the performance task.

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

Preparation and Materials

Prepare the Performance Task anchor chart (see Module Overview for Performance Task download), Module Guiding Questions anchor chart (Unit 1, Lesson 1), and Questions about Epidemics anchor chart (Unit 1, Lesson 2).

Prepare vocabulary logs and independent reading journals.

Ensure that families are aware of the sensitive content of Patient Zero, and prepare students who may be affected by this content in advance.

The following materials are introduced in this unit and referenced throughout both the module and the school year:

  • Text Structure anchor chart
  • Criteria of an Effective Constructed Response anchor chart

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