Photo: Niklas Elmheden

Epidemics and pandemics are part of human history. In Contagious, we go through what viruses are with the help of some key discoveries in scientific history that have impacted our lives and our view of the world around us.


Student Learning Objectives:

The Nobel Prize Lesson entitled Contagious is a ready-made lesson package in which we discuss what life is, the difference between viruses and bacteria, as well as cures made possible by key discoveries in the history of science that have influenced us and our view of the world around us.


Nobel Prize, genes, DNA, RNA, protein, evolution, epidemic, spread of infection, virus

Age Range

Age 14 and up.


Schools, Remotely from home


The entire lesson package requires about three 45-minute sessions to complete. The slide show and accompanying teacher manuscript form the backbone of the lessons.

Technical Requirements

Make sure slideshows can be projected in your classroom. Print the playing field in A3 format – one for each group. Have post-it notes available.

Connection with the curriculum


Historical and contemporary discoveries in the field of biology and their importance to society, to human living conditions, and to our view of nature and the natural sciences.

Topical areas of research in biology, such as biotechnology.

Natural science theories about the origin of life. The development and diversity of life based on the theory of evolution.

Body and health

How our physical and psychological health are impacted by sleep, nutrition, exercise, social relationships and addictive substances.

Commonly occurring diseases and how they can be prevented and treated.

Viruses, bacteria, infections and the spread of infections.

Antibiotics and resistant bacteria.


Here is a suggestion for how you can organise this task:

  • Lesson 1: Theory: Viruses and bacteria – slideshow with manuscript
  • Lesson 2: Student group assignment − Build your own virus
  • Lesson 3: Theory: Cures – script slideshows

Teacher Support Materials

Useful resources, such as a Teacher’s Guide, are available at the “Teacher Support Materials” tab.

Follow-up Activities

We suggest several virtual pathways we think suitable for your students to continue their learning journey they began with “Contagious”. These are available at the “Follow-up Activities” tab.

Preparing the Teacher

The Coronavirus pandemic has given more people insight into how researchers work and how new knowledge is created, tested and applied. But where is the leading edge of research right now? What do we know about the Covid-19 disease, vaccines and therapeutics? How has humanity previously dealt with pandemics and horrible diseases?

A main goal of Contagious is to help teachers foster faith in facts and critical thinking among students at a time of so much disinformation, misunderstanding, and conspiracy theories.

In order to get prepared for delivering the lesson, we advise you to watch an online seminar for teachers that was organised by the Nobel Prize Museum. During this online seminar, a team of leading researchers, educators and experts will deepen your knowledge as a teacher and offer inspiration for your teaching.

The video is available here.

More information about the online seminar Contagious Teaching is available here.

Preparing the Class

  • Make sure slideshows can be projected in your classroom
  • Print the playing field in A3 format – one for each group of students
  • Have post-it notes available

The slideshow and playing field along with other resources are available at the “Teacher Support Materials” tab.

The entire lesson package requires about three 45-minute sessions to complete. The slideshow and accompanying teacher manuscript form the backbone of the lessons.

Session 1: Theory: Viruses and bacteria (45′)

  • This session is covered by slides 1-19 of the slideshow.
  • The slideshow speaker’s manuscript will help you make the session more interactive through exercises, group discussions.
  • There are also suggested speed-reads and videos to show your students. Please ensure that your students make the most out of these resources.

Session 2: Student group assignment: Build your own virus (45′)

  • This session is covered by slides 20-24 of the slideshow.
  • Do the exercise in groups of 3-5 students.
  • Print the “playing field” in A3 format and use post-it notes to write what characteristics the students choose.
  • Decide beforehand how much time your class will spend discussing each disease.

Session 3: Theory: Cures (45′)

  • This session is covered by slides 25-33 of the slideshow.
  • When you tell about the discovery of penicillin”, don’t forget to suggest your students to read this at home.
  • When you tell about the discovery of vaccines, you can watch with your students this 13′ video about Edward Jenner and the Dawn of Immunology.

How to structure the 3 sessions

A suggested way to structure the 3 sessions into teaching phases is presented below.

Phase 1: Provoke curiosity

You can start this phase by asking your students: What are you most curious about when it comes to viruses and pandemics? What is life according to the Natural Sciences?

Phase 2: Active investigation

In this teacher-led phase, you offer your students a deep dive into knowledge about viruses by following the slideshow (1-19) and teacher’s manuscript. The aim here is to help students acquire a deeper understanding of life (slides 2-5), bacteria and viruses (slides 7-17).

Phase 3: Creation

During this phase, you introduce a group activity for students.

Task: Each group composed of 3-5 students is asked to build their own virus by buying attributes for 20 points per group.

For in-person learning in the classroom, the teacher divides the class into groups

For remote learning from home, the teacher divides the students into virtual breakout rooms.

Aim: During this phase, students are expected to learn quite some facts about viruses. The learning objective for students is to understand the attributes a virus needs to have in order to be effective.

Phase 4: Presentation and Discussion

In this phase, each group presents their viruses. In particular, each groups is asked to explain based on evidence how effective their virus is. Having completed the round of presentations, the class figures out which group built the most effective virus.

Phase 5: Reflection

Here is the phase where pandemics are put into historical perspective. In other words, you can put the Coronavirus pandemic in perspective with smallpox, malaria, bubonic plague, the Spanish flu and the AIDS epidemic, and discuss the virus that causes each disease and how many are estimated to have died in each pandemic.

Having completed Contagious, you will have an opportunity to continue working with educational material from the Nobel Prize website and other resources for further study, including material about Nobel Laureates who made pioneering discoveries related to viruses and about other aspects touched on in this lesson.

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VIRTUAL PATHWAYS is a project funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union (REF: 2020-1-FI01-KA226-SCH-092545). The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.