We’ve Been Infected!

Today was the day my class did their Black Plague Simulation.  I was teaching the middle ages last year and was just so bored with what we were doing.  I thought there must be something fun out there that has to do with something other than knights and castles and sure enough, I stumbled upon this epidemic simulation by Cory M. Wisnia for FREE!  I would have totally paid for this activity a hundred times over, my kids and I love it that much!

The simulation involves paper bags that are labeled for different European cities.  In each bag is a number of beans (pinto, black, and kidney) that represent the health of that city during the time.  I altered the number of beans a bit to have 100 pinto instead of 200 in each bag and I doubled the number of beans that represent the black plague and cholera.  I wanted my kids to feel the impact of the plague and have a realistic proportion of my class “die.”  With this reduction, I still had to count over 2500 beans, which can be a pain initially, but this year, it was nice to pull the bags out and just go.  These numbers have worked out perfectly for me all four times I’ve done it with anywhere between a quarter to forty percent of my students “dying” from a disease.  I talk to them about the different factors that contributed to high or low death tolls for cities.

Each student is given a log with a list of cities they attend on their journey.  Half the students are tradesmen and the other half are making pilgrimages.  There are three different journeys for tradesmen and pilgrims so that all your students aren’t at the same bag at once.  They arrive at a city, roll a die, which represents the number of nights spent there, and draw that number of beans from the bag.  They’re hoping to not draw any disease beans.  If they do, they must tape their skull and crossbones on their back and then travel to two more cities, adding disease beans to the bag to represent the spreading of their illness.  After they spread their disease to two other cities on their journey, students must roll two die and if they do not get doubles, they die and their journey ends.  If they do, they have “recovered” and are free to continue traveling.  When finished, dead or not, students complete their travel log.

This year, I made a black flag to hang in my window to warn travelers that our city
had been infected, just like they did in the past.  I added a skull and
crossbones to really get the message across, lol.  My kids loved it
when they walked in this morning!

It was a lot of fun for the kids and I think it really helps them understand what a loss the medieval European population suffered when it lost one out of three citizens to disease.  The packet includes everything you need paper and direction-wise to complete this simulation, including suggestions for writing and graphing extensions that I did not use.  There are so many tangents you can go on with this lesson that hit home
for the kids (i.e. the importance of washing your hands).  Click here to get this wonderful PDF!  If you ever do use this in your classroom, I’d love to hear how it went.

Click HERE to visit another post of mine about a Black Death Investigation activity that we’ve also done in 6th grade.

7 thoughts on “We’ve Been Infected!

  1. This sounds wonderful. I do a similar activity in my 7th grade social studies room, but I am always looking for ways to tweak my lessons. I'd like to compare mine to yours, but I don't get anything when I click on the link for the PDF.

  2. Thank you for pointing that out, Jennifer! I guess the original page changed. I searched around and was able to find it posted elsewhere. Try clicking on it again. It should work this time! 🙂

  3. Hello,
    I'm planning on using this with my 6th graders in a couple weeks. I have back to back classes during the day, though, and I was wondering how annoying you think it will be to re-sort the beans at the end of the class in preparation for the next class, in order to start out each period with the right number of white and red beans? Or should I make a different set of bags for each period?
    Would love your advice. Thank you!

  4. Hi, Anne! I've done this with students in a middle school setting as well, with six back-to-back periods. I made it work by stopping the activity 5 minutes before our usual end time. I told each student to stand in front of a bag and displayed the chart that shows the number of each bean per city. Each student was responsible for refilling the bag exactly as the chart showed. They brought me extra beans they had and/or got beans they needed from me at the front. It worked out smoothly and I never had any problems with the following class having the wrong amount. I personally think this would be a lot easier and far less prep for you than having to make enough sets for each class. Let me know how it goes! Hope your kids love it as much as mine always do! 🙂

  5. Hi! I do this with my 12th graders before reading plague literature and they always love it! I choose not to resort beans after each period. I tell the later classes that it's unfortunate that they came to the cities after others had already been there, because now they have a greater chance of catching the disease 🙂

  6. Hi – I found this lesson plan and was looking for feedback from someone who has done it. How many bags of beans do I have to buy? I think it would do what you did and cut the amount per bag. But still wondering how many pounds of beans will get me 2400 beans. 🙂

  7. Hello there! I have never done this activity and wanted to know, if I have a class of 20 and the kids partner up with each other, how should they start their stations? I know there are 6 different voyages in total, but wouldn't some kids have to begin at the same city or can they work out of order from the city itinerary?
    Thank you!

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