6th Grade New York

Black Death

This inquiry is framed by the compelling question “Can disease change the world?” Among the many catastrophic global pandemics in history, perhaps none achieved the notoriety of the Black Death. The Black Death was a massive outbreak of the bubonic plague caused by infectious bacteria. Thought by scientists to have been spread by contaminated fleas on rats and/or other rodents, the Black Death quickly decimated entire families and communities. In doing so, the Black Death led more than one observer of the time to ponder whether the apocalypse had begun. The Black Death began and first spread on the Silk Roads through central Asia in the early 14th century, and by mid-century moved via merchant ships into North Africa and Europe, where it would kill nearly one-half of the population. It took almost 150 years for Europe’s population to recover. By investigating the compelling question “Can disease change the world?” students consider the causes, symptoms, and reasons for the rapid geographic expansion of the disease and how this pandemic affected people of the 14th century and beyond. Through their investigation of sources in this inquiry, students should develop an understanding of the consequences of the Black Death and an informed awareness of the importance of preparing for future diseases and possible pandemics.


Compelling Question:

Can Disease Change the World?

Staging the Question:

Discuss an example of a recent outbreak of infectious disease and how public officials responded to the outbreak.

Supporting Question What was the Black Death?

Formative Task Write a description of the Black Death that includes its symptoms and where outbreaks occurred in Europe and Asia.

Sources Source A: Excerpts from Decameron
Source B: Illustration of the Black Death


Supporting Question How did the Black Death spread so quickly?

Formative Task Construct a diagram illustrating how the Black Death spread.

Sources Source A: Plague Ecology visual
Source B: Map depicting spread of the Black Death


Supporting Question How did the Black Death affect people in the 14th century?

Formative Task Create an annotated illustration depicting how the Black Death affected different groups of people in the 14th century.

Sources Source A: Bubonic plague statistics
Source B: Illustration of the persecution of Jews during the Black Death
Source C: Social and Economic Effects of the Plague

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Can disease change the world? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that discusses the impact of the Black Death using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views that people had about the nature of the Black Death in the 14th century.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Find current examples of how we prevent, detect, and minimize the spread of diseases in homes, schools, and communities (e.g., washing hands, vaccinations).
Assess: Think of at least one way we might improve the prevention or control the spread of diseases in homes, schools, and communities.
Act: Create a public service announcement to advocate for improved methods of prevention, detection, and control of diseases.