Americapox: The Missing Plague


Image: By Cybercobra at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,


This lesson looks at viral diseases, with a specific focus on why the indigenous population of the Americas was decimated after the arrival of the first Europeans in 1492.

You can download the worksheet here: Americapox. The Missing Plague

Teaching online? Download the presentation slides here: Americapox. The Missing Plague (slides)

Links you will need for this lesson:

The lead in focuses attention on plague like diseases which have been, and in some parts of the world still are, virulent.

Prior to a video task, using this excellent explainer video by CGP Grey, learners are asked to fill in a KWL grid with ideas about what they know and what they would like to know. While watching they are asked to complete the final column in the grid with what they have learnt.

The final task is a research project which forms the basis of a short presentation.

If you need a shorter activity, not a full lesson, you could use these comprehension questions. Download them here: Americapox. The Missing Plague (comprehension questions)


As a subject matter, we should tread carefully. Even a rudimentary search to garner more information about any of the viruses discussed in this lesson will present the bleak reality of what happens to the human body, only made worse by any visceral photographic imagery. It is unpalatable and distressing and many will reject the topic matter entirely because of it.

In this lesson, the video presents ideas while sustaining an emotional detachment. The audio clips in the final task arguably less so but still seeks to inform without resorting to manipulative descriptions in order to draw the audience in.

The danger of not maintaining an appropriate distance, especially on matters so highly charged, is to run the risk of losing sight of what it is we may be aiming towards. In this lesson, our aim might be to stress the need for social distancing to help stem the flow of a virus, or the importance of looking after family members, especially those who are the most vulnerable. Similarly, we may be hinting at socio-economic factors and why lasting damage hits the world’s poorest communities most. By its very nature, disease, like war,  subjugates people.

Let us not forget that viral diseases are devastating. The ‘Spanish’ Influenza killed more than the total number of civilian and military deaths during WWI but only ever receives a mention when the world is in the midst of a new pandemic. The same could be said of SARS and Ebola, dominating the news headlines while the disease poses an existential threat but quickly forgotten once under control.

I am writing this blog post while the world stays at home in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. We are all adapting to the challenges of working in a different space, worrying about family members who are at risk, and wondering when this situation will end.

So go ahead, deliver this lesson while it is still topical… Erm… maybe you should wait… Yes, wait until this whole episode is no more than a distant memory. After all, we may need reminding of what it was really like.


One comment

  1. […] You may also be interested in this lesson I created which explores viral diseases, with a specific focus on why the indigenous population of the Americas was decimated after the arrival of the first Europeans in 1492. Parallels could be drawn with our current pandemic. You can download the lesson here: Americapox: The Missing Plague. […]


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