Lesson Plan: Lessons Learned from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

Historian Nancy Bristow talked about the 1918 influenza pandemic and how it devastated American communities and soldiers during World War I. She explained how this version of the flu was different than previous seasonal versions of the flu at the time.


In 1918, a strain of influenza spread throughout the globe causing 50 million deaths worldwide. Sometimes referred to as the Spanish Flu, this pandemic was unique in its severity and the segments of the population that were affected. This lesson has students hear from historians, scientists and doctors to explore the factors that led to the spread of the disease. With this information, students will develop a list of lessons that can be learned from the 1918 influenza pandemic.


  • WARM-UP:

    Before beginning class, have the students brainstorm answers to the following questions. Address any misconceptions that student may have about the flu and early 1900s.

    • Describe what you know about the flu and how it usually spreads. What are ways that are used to prevent it?
    • Describe what was occurring around the world in 1918.

    Have the students either define each of the following terms in their own words or provide them with a brief overview of these terms. This vocabulary will be used through the video clips included in this lesson.

    • Epidemic

    • Influenza

    • Pandemic

    • Public Health

    • Quarantine

    • Symptom

    After students have an understanding of the vocabulary terms mentioned above, have them view the following video clip that provides an overview of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Student should answer the questions provided to focus their viewing.

    VIDEO CLIP 1: The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic (5:15)

    • What is the common belief about the origin of the 1918 influenza pandemic?

    • How did World War I help intensify the spread of the Spanish Flu?

    • How did the Spanish Flu affect certain age groups differently than previous flus? Why was this significant to society?

    • Describe the symptoms of the Spanish Flu.

    • What factors led to the Spanish Flu having a significant impact on society in the United States?

    Provide students with the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Handout. Students should watch the video clips provided below to complete the graphic organizer. Students will take notes on the factors that contributed to the spread of the flu and actions taken to stop the spread of the flu.

    HANDOUT: 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Google Doc)


    After students have completed their graphic organizer, have them develop a list of 3-5 lessons learned or recommendations that can be taken from the 1918 pandemic. For each, they should explain how these lessons or recommendations could prevent the spread of similar pandemics in the future.


    Oral Histories: Using the Department of Health and Human Service documentary, We Heard the Bells, The Influenza of 1918, choose one of the people from the film who witnessed the 1918 pandemic. Provide a summary of their experiences and explain how their story relates to some of the factors that contributed to the spread of the flu.

    1918 Influenza Pandemic Memorial- As Professor Bristow mentioned in the video clip, there is not a national memorial to honor the victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Using the information provided in the clips and outside research, design a memorial that commemorates the pandemic. In addition to creating a design for the memorial, provide an explanation of where you would locate the memorial and how this memorial symbolizes the 1918 pandemic.


    • Should the federal government take a more active role in preventing epidemics and pandemics?

    • How did World War I contribute to the spread of the Spanish Flu?

    • How did the Spanish Flu impact World War I?

    • In what ways did the social and racial divisions impact the severity of the 1918 influenza?

    • Why do you think the 1918 influenza pandemic is not remembered as much as other events?

Additional Resources


  • Asymptomatic
  • Blockade
  • Causality
  • Influenza
  • Life Expectancy
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality Rate
  • Pandemic
  • Public Health
  • Quarantine
  • Social Distancing
  • Social Norm
  • Spanish Flu
  • Symptom
  • World War I


HealthU.S. History


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