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Ebola Outbreak: Student Discussion Guide

Ebola virus disease (EVD), formally known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, has been causing worldwide concern as it infects people in countries out of West Africa, including the United States. Newspapers around the world have made the epidemic front page news and top headlines, and global health experts, such as the CDC, have declared the 2014 Ebola epidemic as the largest in history.

The World Health Organization said EVD has a fatality rate of of up to 90 percent, and that the virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and then spread from human to human. Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The virus is transmitted through close contact with blood, secretions, organs and other parts of infected animals.

EVD is a severe illness that starts with a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and both external and internal bleeding. As of now, there is no reported vaccine for the virus. 

So far, more than 3,000 people have died so far from the Ebola virus, according to an article in The New York Times. The article also states that experts believe that up to 1.4 million will be effected before the epidemic under control.

Now that the United States saw its first patient develop symptoms in Texas and later die, teachers may be concerned about how to effectively teach about Ebola in the classroom. 


Student discussion questions:


Updated 10/8/2014:  Provided by The New York Times in its article, "Learning from Disaster: Exploring the Ebola Epidemic," teachers can refer to a number of lesson plans, videos, and other ideas provided by the world's leading publication.

  1. Start With What Students Already Know: Have students work in pairs and write down what they have read or heard about Ebola using this concept map. Then, teachers can create a class list on the board after the groups share their maps. 
  2. Watch the video "Burial Boys" and have students answer these discussion questions:

Discussion Questions:

  • Who are the “burial boys”?
  • What precautions do these young men take to make sure they don’t get sick?
  • Why are the people in the village angry at the “burial boys”?
  • Why is the job of burying the dead so important to controlling this outbreak?
  • Who trains and supports these young men with their jobs?
  • What are some of the obstacles the burial teams face in doing their jobs?
  • What sacrifices are these men making by taking this job?
  • Why do you think these young men do this difficult work?


  1. PBS News Hour created this webpage where students are guided on a mission to become "an expert on the deadly Ebola virus." At the end of the lesson, students will be able to design a strategy to contain the virus. The webpage offers resources from CDC, articles,  a video about viruses from NPR, and another video titled, "What You Need to Know About Ebola," provided by Sci-Show. PBS has also provided this student guide

  1. Achoo!: The most Interesting Book You'll Ever Read About Germs by Trudee Romanek: This book provides easy-to-understand and engaging text along with amusing illustrations. Students from grades K-5 can learn about germs, bacteria, viruses, vaccines, epidemics and more. Teachers will appreciate the short passages and the opportunity to teach science-focused vocabulary words.
  2. C-SPAN Classroom: Students can watch this update on the Ebola outbreak and a clip from a statement from President Obama:

Discussion Questions:

  • What news update reached the front page of The Washington Post on keeping Ebola out of the United States? Is this a good method to take? Why or why not?
  • What happened in Meriden, Conn., and what does it mean for the epidemic?
  • What did President Obama say about the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in the United States?


Related resources

Best Instructional Videos: Pandemics Throughout History

Lesson: Epidemics, Vaccines and Prevention

One Massachusetts educator Storified his Twitter-based Ebola inquiry lesson.

The Council on Foreign Relations website

The World Health Organization website


Article by Kassondra Granata, EducationWorld Contributor
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