Pox, Pus and Plague

Plague Doctor 17th Century
Credit: Wellcome Collection, https://wellcomecollection.org/works/vkbdqrzg


The introductory lesson was designed to introduce pupils to the project, familiarise them with the staff from the university and build up confidence in directly engaging with primary source analysis.


The Pox, Pus and Plague lesson was written and designed with feedback from the collaborating school as it covered similar material that was in the current curriculum. The lesson was written to introduce new words and concepts such as ‘Epidemiology’, ‘Epidemic’ and ‘Pathogen’ whilst also demonstrate how to approach a primary source.

Engagement and Practice:

The lesson was equally divided between presentation style teaching and group work with the sheets attached to this article. This was designed to include pupils as much as possible, through direct group work, question and answer / fill in the blanks sessions and summary sections.

Pox, Pus and Plague – Lesson Presentation

Pox, Pus and Plague – Lesson Presentation 2017


Format – 
◾Introduction of subject and staff
◾Open class question ‘Can you name any Diseases?’
◾Short teaching section – ‘What is a Disease’
◾Group work – Worksheet – ‘Diagnose the Disease’
◾Teaching plus open questions – Epidemics
◾Explanation of Source analysis and sheet
◾Breakdown of four sources – and historical information – Teaching section
◾Group source analysis
◾Sum up section

Exercises and Worksheets: 

Two exercises were designed for this lesson:

1. A diagnosis exercise that was designed in tandem with the lesson plan to help pupils identify different symptoms

Match the Disease – Exercise
2. A source analysis worksheet that was repeatedly used through the programme which asked various questions related to content, context, bias and usefulness of source materials that were provided separately and ranged from images to text, even videos and physical objects.  In the later versions of this lesson, the source analysis was focused on a series of accounts focused on the plague that encouraged the pupils to work as a group to find the answers to the questions.

Source Analysis Worksheet

Plague Source Analysis
Personal Account

Typically, Dr Emma Newlands and PhD Student Simon Walker were present for each introductory lesson. Dr Thora Hands and Simon Walker have also run these sessions alone when the programme grew to include two separate parallel classes.

Simon explains that this lesson was designed to be interesting and fun. There was an element of grotesqueness with enthusiastic descriptions of smallpox eruption or the symptoms of cholera which tended to draw the students into the programme and encourage them to ask questions. Always the pupils did well to listen but engaged best during the 1-1 / group discussions as staff moved around the room to engage directly and offer help and advice. Constantly the pupils presented new and challenging questions and the mix of teaching and engagement tended to hold their attention and enthusiasm.

To move forward with this lesson in the future, potentially the diagnosis sheet is a little basic and there is a question of if this could be made more interesting as this exercise can be completed within seconds.

Overall, this was a great first lesson, it always went down well and it proved to be a strong introduction to the programme for both staff and pupils.

Please feel free to access the attached resources for this lesson.  All of the images and information is strictly provided for a non-commercial / education purposes.