This activity is part of the Menacing Microbes unit.

Unit Driving Question: How does a community get ready for an outbreak?

Lesson Driving Question: How do diseases spread?

1. Discuss ways to stop the spread of disease in a community.

Reflecting on the work done in the last activity, Analyzing Disease Outbreaks, have students answer the following questions in their project groups:

  • What disease maps did they analyze with four-level analysis?
  • What actions might need to be taken to stop the spread of the diseases on those maps?
  • Who would need to be involved in those actions?   


2. Map the route of Patient Zero through the course of a day to track the spread of disease.

To kick off this activity:

  • Inform students that they are going to use maps to record pathways of microbial disease transmission and learn the impact of one infected person’s behavior on the community.
  • Introduce the term, patient zero, and add to the word wall started at the beginning of the unit.
  • Provide students with a copy of the community map mark up.
  • Go over the directions on the community map for labeling the route and other important moments on the map as a class.
  • Explain to students that they will be marking the map to indicate disease transmission points if Patient Zero was infected with their focal disease.

Conduct the Activity:

  • Read the story of Patient Zero aloud to the class.
  • As you read the story, have students trace the route of their patient through the community. 
  • Pause after each section to allow students to trace Patient Zero’s route on the community map.


  • After Patient Zero’s route has been mapped, have students use their disease profile and the directions from the map to indicate moments of possible transmission of their disease on the map.  


3. Identify steps that Patient Zero could have taken to prevent the spread of disease.

  • In their project groups, ask students to respond to the following question: What could Patient Zero have done differently to stop the spread of disease? (Possible answers: wash hands, stay inside, wear bug repellant, wear long sleeves and pants)
  • Have groups share with the rest of the class the following information:
      1. Their focal disease
      2. Methods of transmission
      3. Two ways that Patient Zero could have prevented the spread of disease to others

Informal Assessment

Have students turn in an Exit Ticket with the answers to the following:

  1. What is the name of your focal disease?
  2. What is the method of transmission?
  3. Who else was likely infected by Patient Zero?

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Biology
    • Health
  • Geography
  • Social Studies

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

  • Critical Thinking Skills
    • Analyzing
    • Applying
    • Understanding

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7:  Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Heterogeneous grouping
  • Homogeneous grouping
  • Large-group learning
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Background Information

Spatial thinking is an important skill for understanding geography and the world we live in. Geoscience requires knowledge of spatial representations and relationships. A map is an essential tool for communicating geographic information and representing spatial thinking. When people think with maps, they become equipped to visualize the world around them and solve problems related to human interactions with the world.



harmful condition of a body part or organ.


sudden occurrence or rapid increase.

patient zero

person identified as the first carrier of a contagious disease in an outbreak of related cases.


path or way.


when disease-causing germs pass from an infected person to a healthy person.