Classroom Cross-Connections: Infectious Diseases

  • by Emily Drew

    Changes and additions in educational learning standards have put the emphasis on making connections across disciplines. For instance, a cross-connection unit on World War II could include a study of Japanese Internment camps in Social Studies, a look at the scientists behind the atomic bomb in Science and a close-reading of The Book Thief in English Language Arts.

    Infectious Diseases is another topic that can be used as a cross-connection unit in Social Studies, Science and English Language Arts that uses Nonfiction Informational Texts and other primary source material. Students can build on their knowledge about the world around them, about themselves and about human nature. The library has a plethora of resources available to build collaborative units on Infectious Diseases, some of which are highlighted below. These suggestions are targeted more for Middle and High School Grades. Looking for suggestions for younger grades? Contact us , visit your local branch or comment below!


    There is never a shortage of fascinating and authoritative books on diseases. American history and global history is rife with tales of disease and death, spread because of epidemic outbreaks. Upper grades studying American and Global history can make connections by learning about the diseases that touched many lives.

    General overview of epidemic outbreaks:

    Patient Zero

    Patient Zero: Solving the Mysteries of Deadly Epidemics by Marilee Peters.

    Seven diseases, seven mysteries. Delve into the work of scientists who helped solve the epidemics.

    Use this book in your Science units to look at epidemiologists and the scientific methods they used to find cures. They will learn about the research done and the facts behind the diseases. A glossary, additional resources and fun illustrations can add a new dimension to your lesson plans.


    Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History

    Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History by Bryn Barnard.

    From the book jacket, "Diseases don't affect just one person's life...sometimes they change the world. Did the Black Death destroy the feudal system? Did cholera pave the way for modern Manhattan? Did yellow fever help end the slave trade? Remarkably, the answer to all of these questions is yes. "

    Use this book as supplemental material for your Social Studies history lessons.



    Spotlight Titles:

    Invincible Microbe

    Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank.

    Go on a journey through history, from Homo erectus to modern times, as told by Tuberculosis. Use nonfiction informational texts as a part of your English Language Arts units, such as the New York City High School ELA Scope & Sequence [[{"fid":"290156","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","attributes":{"class":"file media-element file-default"}}]] unit 'A Matter of Life or Death'. Using nonfiction texts for analyzing , contextualizing and presenting information adds a dimension to their posed question, "How do we endure in the face of adversity, tragedy, and conflict?"


    Red Madness

    Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow.

    Have you heard of pellagra? Did you know that it affected millions of Americans in the early 1900s? I hadn't either until this well-researched informational text came along to shed light on this medical mystery.

    Use in a Science unit on Nutrition and find out why niacin has been added to bread to make it "enriched". Use this is as a launching pad to delve into other foods that have been fortified to begin a discussion about the foods we eat. Also can be used in a Science unit on the scientific method to discuss how Joseph Goldberger tested his hypotheses and the morality questions that arise because of it. Or, use in Social Studies as a part of a unit on social classes and see why pellagra effected mainly the poor.

    An American Plague

    An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy.

    Seventeen years after the birth of the United States, a mystery disease was making its way through Philadelphia. Add a dash of icky disease to your unit on American history to paint a full picture of time and place. This informational text won the Sibert Medal, Newbery Honor and was a National Book Award finalist.

    Read Jim Murphy's An American Plague and Invincible Microbe in your English Language Arts studies of authors. What is his style? How does he tell a compelling nonfiction story?

    (Wondering where Typhoid Mary is? Have no fear, she is getting her own blog post soon!)


    Databases have a treasure trove of digital resources that can be incorporated into your units and lesson plans.

    Infectious Diseases from ScienceFlix
    Infectious Diseases from ScienceFlix

    One such database available through the NYPL's Articles and Databases page is Scholastic's ScienceFlix. You can access this database from anywhere to see videos, read authoritative articles and find project ideas that can bolster your unit on the study of the human body and disease. Even better, you can change the Lexile Level on each page to suit your student's needs!

    Bacteria page from BrainPOP
    Bacteria Activity Page from BrainPOP

    Currently only available at NYPL locations, BrainPOP has short animated videos introducing a number of topics, such as Bacteria. You can also take quizzes, fill-in activities and play games. Use these activities to add vocabulary lessons to your English units. Plan a trip to visit your local branch and get introduced to BrainPOP!

    Infectious Diseases page from Opposing Viewpoints

    Also available through the NYPL's Articles and Databases page is the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Access this database from anywhere to find primary source material, web links and other information to encourage the development of critical thinking skills. Topics covered for Infectious Diseases range from vaccine use to recent outbreaks. Forming and understanding Opposing Viewpoints can be a useful exercise in any discipline.

    Making Connections

    This is just a sampling of the resources we have available for your curricula needs. Making new and interesting connections between units and lesson plans can be challenging. We will try to select topics that have interest and coverage to begin to cross-connect ideas and build knowledge.

    Read any of these books or have other suggestions? Know of another database that is handy? Leave a comment below!