Lesson Plan: Quackery: Historical Medical Treatments and Cures

Snake Oil

Dr. Lydia Kang explains the origin of this medical treatment.


Dr. Lydia Kang talks about various medical treatments and cures that were used throughout history. She explains their origins and describes their use.


  • Step 1:

    Ask students to search for definitions of the word 'quackery.'

    Then, as a class discuss the meaning of the term and view the video below to introduce the topic to students and serve as an example for other video clips in the lesson. Use the accompanying questions to guide class discussion.

    Students can take notes on the handout as they view the video clips in this lesson and engage in class discussion.

    Handout: Quackery: Historical Medical Treatments and Cures (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip 1: Snake Oil (2:12)

    Dr. Lydia Kang explains the origin of this medical treatment as well as the meaning of the term Snake Oil Salesman.

    1. Explain the origin of Clark Stanley's Snake Oil.

    2. According to Dr. Kang, what was the initial concept for this treatment?
  • Step 2:

    Ask students to view the following videos of Dr. Lydia Kang explaining the origins of various therapies and how they were used historically as treatments.

    This can be done as an individual or jigsaw activity.

  • Video Clip 2: Bloodletting (6:18)

    Dr. Kang explains the origin of this therapy and the methods used in this treatment.

  • Video Clip 3: Leeching Therapy (2:11)

    Dr. Kang explains how leeches were used medicinally,

  • Video Clip 4: Gold Therapy (5:07)

    Dr. Kang explains gold therapy the origin of this treatment.

  • Video Clip 5: Origin of Opium and Heroin Treatment (4:38)

    Dr. Kang explains the origin of opium treatments.

  • Step 3:

    Have students share the information they gained from the videos and discuss as a class the origins of the methods, how they were used and their effects. Students may also consider the trial and error process of exploring theories that lead to new discoveries.

  • Extension Activity:

    Have students explore current medical research that is being done and select one to report on.

    They should note the origin of the method, how it is administered, any side effects and its purpose.

    Students can present their information as a commercial, written report or slide presentation.


  • Alchemist
  • Arsenic
  • Charlatan
  • Clark Stanley
  • Fleam
  • Humoral Theory
  • Morphine
  • Sanatorium
  • Strychnine
  • Surreptitiously


HealthU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School