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September 30, 2014

Ebola outbreak – Lesson Plan

By Katie Gould, PBS NewsHour Extra Teacher Resource Producer


The Ebola outbreak in Western Africa has already claimed the lives of thousands since its initial victim died in December and health organizations around the world fear that the number will only continue to rise. Use this mission-based lesson plan to help students learn basic concepts about epidemiology in the context of the current outbreak and apply what they’ve learned to design a strategy to control the epidemic. We have created an Ebola outbreak: mission instruction and resources – digital student guide webpage for students that guides them through their mission from start to finish. When deciding how to use this lesson plan we suggest taking the following into consideration:

  • This lesson may be done together as a whole class, in small groups or individually.
  • Depending on your available time you may to choose to only go through some of the resources or even assign them as homework.
  • You also may wish to use these resources as standalone activities or resources to enrich your own lessons. For more standalone recommended resources, please visit our PBS NewsHour Extra Ebola resource collection.
  • You may want to go over the Ebola 101 for the classroom – Q&A with students.

Note: Because of the nature of the topic, some of the content may be upsetting to students and we suggest you preview them and decide what is appropriate for your students.


Biology, statistics, geography, current events, English language arts, media literacy

Estimated time

Depending on your available time you may to choose to only go through some of the resources or even assign them as homework.

Grade level

Middle and high school


We highly recommend that you have access to a computer or other device and the Internet for this lesson as many of the resources are videos. If you wish to have students complete the mission on their own we suggest they have a computer or device with internet access.

All the materials needed to teach the lesson can be found at the Ebola outbreak: mission instruction and resources – digital student guide page on the PBS NewsHour Extra website. Simply click on the link above then scroll down the page and go through the materials you’d like to use with your class. You can find links for all text-based materials provided in the materials section on this page (in the top right column) and again within the text below.

Warm up activity options

There are several activities to choose from to start the lesson or you can go right into the mission. Our suggested options are below:

Main activity

At this point you may decide to go through the materials either as a class or have the students do it individually/in small groups. Depending on the available time, you may to choose to only go through some of the resources.

The resources are presented in a way that helps to reinforce the organizational strategy that the Center for Disease Control uses and the students will need to know in order to complete their mission successfully. The model is described in detail in the first resource and if you plan to use the assessment at the end of the lesson plan it is highly recommended you have students start with it.

  1. Pass out Ebola outbreak: mission instructions and resources – student guide and bring up the Ebola outbreak: mission instruction and resources – digital student guide on your projector or other device to walk students through the simulation and demonstrate how to students can explore the resources.
  2. Pass out Ebola outbreak: the Epidemiologic Triangle – informational text to students. You may choose to read the text as a class aloud or individually. Use the questions on page two to check for understanding.

The rest of the resources will be organized by the sides of the CDC’s Epidemiologic Triangle: agent, host and environment.

Agent the microbe that causes the disease

  1. NPR | Flu attack! How a virus invades your body | Video clip Learn virus basics from National Public Radio (NPR) with this animated video. Come along for the journey of an invading virus from transmission to infection.
  2. Sci-Show | What you need to know about Ebola | Video clip Watch this engaging and informative four minute video clip from Sci-Show that covers key topics such as the history of Ebola, how it is transmitted, possible cures and more.
  3. PBS NewsHour | This is how you get Ebola | Article This article by Ruth Tam takes you on a detailed tour of the Ebola virus. Click here to download a PDF version of the text.

Host the organism harboring the disease

  1. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston | Excerpt Learn about the devastating symptoms humans infected with Ebola experience in this excerpt from the frightening true story The Hot Zone written by Richard Preston. For a printable version of the text please click here.
  2. Frontline | Ebola Outbreak | Documentary film Ebola Outbreak is a 27-minute documentary film from Frontline that brings the viewer into the center of the health crisis burning through West Africa. The story follows the lives of the patients, doctors and volunteer workers joined together by the deadly virus Ebola in its worst recorded outbreak in history. A worksheet designed to accompany the film and teacher answer sheet are available to support student learning while they watch. For an interactive map on the spread of the disease, click here.
  3. PBS NewsHour Extra | Ebola outbreak: analyzing the data | Worksheet Learn more about the patterns in the outbreak and better understand the spread of the Ebola virus in its human hosts by analyzing the latest data from the World Health Organization. For the answers to the worksheet please click here.

 Environment the external factors that cause or allow disease transmission 

  1. National Geographic | Destination: West and Central Africa | Video clip Use this culturally-focused background information on Western Africa from National Geographic to learn about the role traditions play in the lives of those currently faced with the deadly Ebola outbreak. Pay special attention to importance of the funeral rites and consider how they may conflict with medical procedures now being used to halt the spread of the virus.
  2. World Health Organization | Ebola situation in Liberia: non-conventional interventions needed | Informational text Use this situation assessment from the World Health Organization for the most up to date analysis on the crisis. For a PDF version of the text, click here.
  3. PBS NewsHour Extra | U.S. will ramp up efforts to fight Ebola | Video clip Watch this PBS NewsHour video report to hear President Obama’s plan to help fight the crisis, and a discussion from public health experts on the rapidly escalating epidemic in Western Africa.
  4. PBS NewsHour | WHO: ‘Many thousands of new cases’ of Ebola expected in Liberia | Article Use this PBS NewsHour article written by Larisa Epakto to help contextualize the challenges faced by the affected African country of Liberia and partner health organizations. Click here for a printable version of this informational text.


Once the students have completed their research they will now organize their information and then apply it to create a targeted strategy to contain the Ebola outbreak and save thousands of lives. Pass out  Ebola outbreak: strategic plan – assessment to students and have them complete it. Students will be asked to do the following:

  • Fill out the Epidemiological Triangle for the current Ebola outbreak.
  • Organize key facts from your research by agent, host and environment.
  • Design a strategy to contain the Ebola outbreak that targets one side of the triangle and support your plan with evidence. Consider what challenges you might face in the implementation of the plan.

Special thanks to Meredith Keybl, MPH for her extensive guidance and support on this project.

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