Lesson Ideas

A Fun Game to Teach Middle School Students About Vaccinations and Herd Immunity

With so many confusing messages out in the media, it’s crucial to teach students about the importance of widespread vaccination as a means of slowing down the spread of infectious disease and protecting susceptible people who cannot be vaccinated. Teaching your middle schoolers about herd immunity is simple and fun when you follow our lesson plan! With materials adapted from the CDC, you’ll establish the background information, play a couple of illustrative games, and then choose one of the three SJK articles for students to read and discuss. 

Here we’ll give you a quick preview of the lesson plan and an overview of each of the adapted articles we recommend. The full lesson plan, including objectives and materials needed, can be found here.

Step 1. Explain Infectious Diseases, Vaccines, and Immunity

Start off with some basic background information about infectious diseases, including some specific examples and how they spread. We include several concepts to help you go over how the immune system fights infections with antibodies produced by white blood cells, and how immunity can be created by preventatively administering vaccines.

This video illustrates these ideas with some fun animation. You can ask a question, play a part of the video, then pause it.

Next, consider why some people are unable to be vaccinated. We provide a list of possible reasons, including a variety of medical concerns as well as religious objections and hesitancy due to misinformation.

Step 2: Organize a Game

First Round: How Do Diseases Spread? How Do Vaccines Protect Us?

Students randomly draw a red, blue, or green card (from the printable materials provided). Explain that:

  • students with red cards have an infectious disease (let them pick which one) that they can spread to other people; 
  • students with green have been vaccinated and are protected against infection with the disease; 
  • students with blue cards have not been vaccinated and are not protected.

Tell all students with red cards to remain in their seats. Students with green or blue cards should stand. Give a squishy ball to the students with a red card. Explain that when you tell them to start, they are allowed to throw the ball at anyone who is standing. Vaccinated students with green cards are protected and allowed to use their hands to deflect the ball to keep from getting hit on their torso. Unvaccinated students with blue cards are not protected and must keep their hands by their side (making them more susceptible to infection).

Any unvaccinated student who gets hit in the torso must sit down. They are now sick and should be given a squishy ball to throw (and spread the disease). Vaccinated students who get hit should remain standing. The number of sick people will be increasing. After each student has had a certain number of throws, the game stops.

Second Round: What Is Herd Immunity?

Take a break from the action and ask the students to think of ways the green-card holders (immunized students) can help protect the blue-card holders (unvaccinated students). Someone will likely figure out that they can protect them from the flying ball by physically stepping in front of the unvaccinated students and deflecting the ball with their hands (shielding them with their own immune system).

Begin the game again. Students will quickly see how much longer it takes for the disease to spread. Point out that this is how herd immunity works in real life, too. Try playing different rounds with different starting proportions of vaccinated relative to unvaccinated students.

Step 3. Reading a Scientific Article on Vaccination

We recommend the following three articles as a reading assignment (either in class or as homework) as a way to consolidate the learning and connect it to the real world. All three articles are all suitable for a middle school reading level and have videos to introduce the topics to students.

1. Why Get Vaccinated When the Flu Vaccine Doesn’t Work Well?

This article looks at the impact of less effective vaccines in preventing influenza-related infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. The results show that even when the flu vaccines don’t work well, they prevent a large number of people from becoming infected or hospitalized and save thousands of lives. This protection against the flu virus is an excellent demonstration of the concept of herd immunity.

2. How Can A Community Protect Everyone From Disease?

This article investigates how long herd immunity can last in the case of vaccination against cholera in refugee camps in South Sudan. A mathematical model was used to find out that herd immunity lasts for a shorter time when a lot of people move into and out of an area, and the vaccine gets less effective for each person over time. The results suggest that herd immunity lasts longer if authorities do two things: (1) vaccinate everyone against the bacteria and (2) always give vaccines to new arrivals to the camp and to those who were vaccinated a long time ago.

3. How Can We Keep the World Free of Measles?

While measles is already very uncommon in countries with strong health care due to widespread vaccination among young people, that isn’t the case everywhere. In this article, mathematical models were used to study how well different vaccination programs might work at preventing measles from spreading through a country. The results show that under the right conditions, it can be possible to keep measles away for good – and herd immunity plays an important role.

That’s Not All!

Visit this page for more information about using our adaptations and accompanying resources as teaching tools. We’d love to hear from you! Connect with us through any of the channels at the bottom of this page to share your own experience with using Science Journal for Kids in the classroom.

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