Activities & Lessons

Stopping the Spread of Infectious Disease: A Lab Activity Approach

5 Min Read
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What do your students know about germs? Most likely, they’re aware that germs are tiny organisms that include a diverse assortment of microscopic living things such as bacteria, fungi, and a group of microbes called viruses. Your students may also know that if germs get inside of you, they can sometimes cause illness. The common cold, for example, is caused by a variety of germs. So are many diseases, such as chicken pox, measles, and the flu. No doubt your students have heard of COVID-19, a serious disease caused by a type of virus that scientists are still learning about.

We know that if you are to “catch” any one of these illnesses, you first need to be infected by the germ that causes it. However, if you never come into contact with that germ, you can’t get the illness it causes. It’s as simple as that.

That’s why organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have come up with the following list of steps people can take to stay safe. Share the list with your students, and explore with them the science behind each suggestion.

1. Keep your distance from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.

If someone is sick, they might be spreading harmful germs. If they have symptoms, such as coughing, fever, or sneezing, stay away! He or she should not be in close contact, or even in the same room, with other people. Sometimes a person is infected, but has few or no symptoms. Even though they may be feeling well, they can still spread germs! With COVID-19, if a family member thinks they might be infected, he or she could be confined to a room, by themselves, for up to two weeks. Isolating someone makes it less likely that they will spread germs to others.

2. Cough or sneeze into a tissue—and then throw that tissue into the trash.

When you cough or sneeze, you spread droplets into the air. Sometimes, these droplets contain germs. That’s why it’s important to cover up your nose and mouth when you have to sneeze or cough. Once you use a tissue, it can become covered with germs. Be sure no one else touches the used tissue before you toss it into the trash. If you don’t have a tissue handy, use your upper sleeve to cover your mouth and nose.

3. Clean your hands with soap and water.

Do this frequently. Lather your hands with soap and water. Then, wash them for at least 20 seconds. This is very important, especially if you have touched a surface that might have germs. When you wash your hands, you remove the germs that might be found on the surface of your skin.

If you don’t have soap and water, you can use a hand sanitizer gel or spray. It is important that the sanitizer has at least 60% alcohol. The alcohol acts like a poison to germs, killing them before they can infect you.

4. Keep your distance (social distancing).

One of the best ways to stay healthy is to keep your distance from others, even if they show no signs of being sick. That way, germs are less likely to spread from person to person. Doctors recommend staying at least six feet away from others. Keeping a safe distance is a reason that your school may be closed. Even if no one in your school was actually infected with the COVID-19 virus, it’s important to keep everyone safe and not take chances. By not having students and teachers in close contact, the chances for germ transfer are lowered. That’s also the reason that stores, movie theaters, and restaurants may be closed.

5. Don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.

More often, it is your hands that come in contact with germs. Your skin is thick enough to keep them out. However, when you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you bring the germs to a place where they can enter your body. Although it may be difficult for you to do, try to avoid touching any part of your face.

6. Not feeling well? Stay home.

If you feel sick, tell an adult. You need to stay home so that you don’t spread your germs to others. By the way, many people who become sick these days think at first that they have COVID-19. But after testing, it turns out it is some other illness, like the flu or a cold. If you follow the above suggestions, you are less likely to get sick from germs.

7. Keep things clean.

Adults can help you keep things clean. When you touch objects such as cell phones, keyboards, doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls, you can transfer germs. To stay safe, you need to clean those surfaces with a germ-killing solution. Keep in mind that many disinfectants can be dangerous, so let an adult show you how to rid a surface of germs in the correct way. Remember that many germ-killing cleaners can cause harm when used improperly. Only use them when you’re in an area with lot of fresh air, be sure to wear gloves to prevent cleaners from getting on your skin, and don’t ever mix two different cleaners.


In this video, I explain to students the science behind viruses in general and the COVID-19 virus specifically, and why COVID-19 has become a worldwide health concern.

Click the image above to play the video.

In the activities below, your students can apply what they’ve learned about stopping the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

Grades K-2

In this activity, students will use modeling to show others how to stop the spread of germs when coughing or sneezing.

Grades 3-5

Students will use modeling of the spread of germs to understand how to make a claim and support it with evidence in this activity for elementary school students.

In this activity, students will model how to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and then apply what they learned to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Grades 6-8

Download this activity, where students will explore the necessity and the science of handwashing as a means to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other microorganisms.

In this activity, students will gain an understanding of exponential growth and apply it to explain the spread of COVID-19.

Grades 9-12

In this activity, students will use a model of SARS-CoV-2 to educate themselves and others about the virus.

This activity enables students to analyze models of a segment of the SARS-CoV-2 genome to develop an understanding of how it codes for proteins.

Download this activity to enable students to explore PCR-based testing for SARS-CoV-2.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


To help you continue teaching and learning during the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), visit HMH's At-Home Learning Support page for free resources.

For relevant, regularly updated information about the coronavirus to help build understanding of the disease, visit Michael DiSpezio’s COVID-19 blog.

This blog was updated in June 2020.

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