The Spanish Flu versus COVID-19: Critical Thinking Activities for Social Studies

By Christine Boatman

As a social studies teacher, I am always curious about how future historians will view current events. Lately, I’ve found myself particularly interested in how the COVID-19 pandemic will be analyzed by generations to come—and, seeking a precedent that might provide some clues, I’ve found myself drawn to how history remembers the Spanish flu of 1918. This semester, I’ll be using this comparison to help my students contextualize current events by investigating a historical event. Furthermore, the three activities I’ve put together for this purpose will help my students develop their critical thinking skills. We will be investigating stories of individuals impacted by the Spanish flu, exploring primary sources related to the Spanish flu, and, finally, my students will write an account from the perspective of an individual living in 1918, based on these primary sources.  (Please note: it is important to take into account the ages and individual experiences of your students when planning these activities, and to be sensitive to any adverse reactions.)

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Engage your students as future historians of our present times

By David Nurenberg

Samuel Pepys lived through the Great Plague of London, a 1665 pandemic where bubonic plague killed a quarter of London’s population in just 18 months, during which time the Great Fire of London also robbed twice that many Londoners of their homes. Anne Frank spent the last four years of her young life hiding in a concealed room behind a bookcase in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in the 1940s. Throughout the 2000s, missionary nurse Kelly Suter treated victims of the East Timor genocide, the Haitian earthquake and the Ebola epidemic in Liberia.

What do these three people have in common? They all kept meticulous journals of the troubling times they lived through (or, in the case of Frank, didn’t live to see the end of). Keeping a journal as a means of coping with and processing adversity is almost as old as the invention of writing itself; the Book of Merer, an ancient Egyptian journal dating back 4500 years, is the oldest surviving work written on papyrus.

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Social Studies: Teaching about Elections

How to teach politics without getting too political

The tricky thing about teaching politics to any grade level of students is leaving your own politics out of it. I always knew I had taught a successful unit if by the end, students still did not know which way I leaned politically. I have had colleagues who make it very clear which way they lean, even going so far as to have bumper stickers or signage touting specific candidates hanging in their classroom. This always bothered me because although I think teachers are responsible for influencing our students to be learners, there are certain topics we have no business influencing. I subscribe to the Linus theory:

“I’ve learned there are three things you don’t discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

Linus Van Pelt (Charles Schultz)
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