Teacher Resources Teacher Resources Epidemic Experts

Student Resources Student Resources
  • Invitation to inquiry
  • Open minds
  • Stimulate curiosity

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An American Plague

Fever 1793

You may use a variety of Inquiry Tools and Strategies throughout the inquiry process.
In Language Arts class, you have been reading An American Plague by Jim Murphy and the historical fiction novel Fever by Laurie Halsie Anderson. As the Yellow Fever took Philadelphia by storm in 1793, the city was panic-stricken and members of the community reacted in a variety of surprising ways. Some, like Dr. Benjamin Rush, were deemed heroes. On the other hand, some were recorded in the history books as cowards for fleeing to safety and leaving their beloved city behind.  

Throughout history, disease outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics have had a widespread impact on people around the world. Unfortunately, these public health issues continue to affect people today. For example, you or someone you know may have been stricken by the "flu," which is caused by a variety of influenza viruses. Modern societies have responded to flu outbreaks in a variety of ways. For example, medical advances like vaccines (the "flu shot") now protect many people from contracting the disease; some communities provide hand sanitizer dispensers in public places to try to prevent the spread of the flu and other diseases; people in some places wear surgical masks to protect them from exposure to disease.

Despite the nationwide vaccination campaign to immunize most Americans against the flu, this disease can still reach epidemic proportions in some areas of the country, as reported in this 2015 news video:

NBC Learn video

Modern societies have gained some insight into dealilng with epidemics. Public health experts learn by studying various epidemics that have occurred around the world, and analyzing the ways different members of the community have been affected and responded to them.

The author of Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson, studied the Yellow Fever epidemic for a different reason. She used and altered historical facts and applied narrative techniques to create a work of historical fiction.

You will now have an opportunity to research a historical epidemic, and to create your own historical fiction narrative.

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  • Build background knowledge
  • Connect to content
  • Discover interesting ideas

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You will research a real epidemic in order to learn about the history of the epidemic and its impact on people and society. You will be using historical facts from your research to complete the Unit 1 PBA: Who Tells the Story? Using and Altering History in a Narrative. Preview the Student Directions on PBA page 1 now. This inquiry will help to shed light on the over-arching inquiry question:

How can I use historical facts about an epidemic
and narrative writing techniques to create historical fiction?

First, use some of the resources below to explore the history behind your mentor text, Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793. Complete the Graphic Organizer: How Halse Anderson Used/Altered History on PBA page 2.

Start of 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia
Sanitation and conditions of Philadelphia in 1793
Cures and hospitalization for Yellow Fever in 1793
Current news about Yellow Fever

PBA Part 1: Now, create a graphic representation of how Halse Anderson used and altered history in Fever 1793.  Annotate it visually and/or aurally in order to explain your thinking. 

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  • Explore interesting ideas
  • Look around
  • Dip in

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Apply exploratory strategies like browsing, scanning, and skimming as you use the resources listed below to help you select a historical epidemic to research. "Dip in," look around, and discover a topic of interest. Try using these inquiry tools and strategies to guide your exploration:

  • Use the Stop and Jot strategy to record ideas and questions in your Inquiry Journal.
  • Use the Pair-Share Protocol to clarify your ideas, get feedback, and gain insight.
  • Use the Inquiry Log to keep track of sources that might be useful for further inquiry.

Epidemic Overviews:

  • Epidemic (Encyclopedia article from World Book Student)
  • What are Epidemics, Pandemics, and Disease Outbreaks? (WebMD)
  • "Epidemic." Natural Disasters. Claire Watts. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2006. [60]-61. DK Eyewitness Books. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
    * Includes images, read-aloud, MP3 download, PDF download to eReader, translation.
  • "What Is an Epidemic?" Epidemic, 1st American ed. Brian Ward. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000. 6-7. DK Eyewitness Books. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
  • Major U.S. Epidemics

Specific epidemics for research:

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  • Pause and ponder
  • Decide direction
  • Identify inquiry questions

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Over-arching Inquiry Question:

How do authors combine historical facts and narrative writing techniques to create historical fiction?

Based on your exporation, select one epidemic to research. Your teacher will approve your topic selection, and may have you form an Inquiry Circle with students who have selected the same epidemic to research.

  • Refer to the organizer Epidemics in History: Gathering the Facts for specific subtopics to guide your search for information on your selected epidemic.
  • Identify and highlight or underline keywords for skimming, scanning and searching.
  • Use these Inquiry Journal Prompts to generate some additional questions of your own.

Select the Gather tab above to continue your inquiry.


  • Gather important information
  • Go broad (search & locate)
  • Go deep (read & reflect)

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Try using these Inquiry Tools for the Gather step:

Apply effective searching and reading strategies in order to locate and evaluate information relevant to your information need.

Refer to the organizer Epidemics in History: Gathering the Facts for specific subtopics to guide your search for information about your assigned epidemic.

See How to Evaluate Information from the Internet to ensure that you are gathering information from reliable, authoritative sources.

Use strategies and tools for note-taking, documentation, and reflection to gather and organize information:

Use Note-taking 21st Century Style, Note-taking Using Index Cards, or another note-taking method or tool recommended by your teacher.
Demonstrate digital citizenship and avoid plagiarism by citing your sources for a page of References to include with your final project (see PBA page 6).

    Use your EasyBib EDU student account to format citations and create a Works Cited list. Refer to EasyBib Citation Guides or the Purdue OWL MLA Style & Formatting Guide as needed.

    Note that most BCPS-licensed database content includes a pre-formatted citation which you can copy and paste onto your Works Cited list.

Now, use a variety of resources as directed on the Student Resources page to gather information about your topic.

When you have gathered enough important facts about an epidemic to complete PBA Part 2, select the Create tab above to continue.


  • Reflect on learning
  • Go beyond facts to make meaning
  • Create to communicate

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Analyze your research notes to reflect on your learning. Will the information you gathered enable you to create a narrative plot which incorporates historical facts about the epidemic? Synthesize your research findings by completing PBA Parts 2 and 3 as outlined below:

PBA Part 2: Based on your research of an epidemic, create a plot for a narrative that uses and alters the history of an epidemic to illustrate a theme. Record your plot using a graphic organizer such as a plot outline or storyboard. Use Fever 1793 as a mentor text, and apply the narrative techniques that are appropriate for communicating your theme.

  • You may use the Pre-Writing Graphic Organizer and Storyboard Organizer for a Historical Fiction Narrative Set During an Epidemic on PBA page 3-4.
    • See the Sample Responses for a plot outline/storyboard on PBA pages 7-8..

PBA Part 3: Pick one scene from your plot and write the scene using effective point of view, setting, dialogue, pacing, characterization, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events that advance your theme.  This scene may be in prose (like Fever 1793), a play, a musical, a graphic novel, a long narrative series of poems (like Inside Out and Back Again), or another form of your choice.  Regardless of the genre, consider all of the criteria outlined in the rubric in order to draw your reader into your narrative and effectively communicate your theme.

Types of scenes to consider:

  • Exposition – Describing the setting, introducing the characters, hinting at conflict) – a snapshot of a character, and/or a “photo” description of a place (Resource: “How to Write Fiction That Comes Alive”)
  • A teaser (or “cold open” or “hook”) --  In medias res – a scene that opens in the middle of a dramatic event, often including action – may include surprise/something unexpected (Resource – “Five Great Examples of In Media Res”)
  • A flashback – A character remembering a scene from his/her past (Resource: More pacing ideas)
  • A dialogue – Characters discuss a topic – includes effective narration as well – show what the characters are feeling more than you “tell” what they are feeling (Resource: “The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell”)
  • A scene that you can really “dig” down into – one that really illustrates your theme, and/or how your characters are dealing with the struggle of the epidemic (Resource: “Explode the Small Moment”)

Include a page of References, citing all the information sources you used for your research.

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  • Learn from each other
  • Share your learning
  • Tell your story
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Share your narrative scene with others as recommended by your teacher.

  • Consider dramatizing your scene with some classmates in a brief skit or read-aloud.
  • Invite your readers to try to identify the historical facts you used or altered in your scene.

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  • Evaluate the achievement of learning goals
  • Reflect on content
  • Reflect on process

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The following tools may be used or adapted by you and your teacher to evaluate your research process, product and presentation. You can use these scoring tools throughout your inquiry process to plan, make decisions, monitor progress, and reflect on your learning.

Research Process Assessments/Reflection:

PBA Scoring tool:

Extend your learning:

This BCPS Online Research Model is based on Guided Inquiry Design; GID resources have been used with permission of the authors: Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K.,  & Caspari, A.K. (2012).  Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara, CA:  Libraries Unlimited.

Background Image: Mexicans wearing face masks to protect against Swine Flu, ABC News



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