Bridging the Gap Between Past & Present

This week we’re continuing our exploration into discussing current events in the classroom. If you missed our previous blog post, please check it out here. In it, we shared steps for tackling these issues in constructive, thoughtful and sensitive ways. Today, we’ll put some of these tips into practice looking at the current pandemic landscape and its historical predecessor the Spanish Flu.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways we interact with those around us, view policies of health and disease, and even teach our students. Looking to the past can sometimes provide us with lessons learned or ways to grapple with unfolding events.

In the spring of 1918, reports began to circulate of individuals sick with flu symptoms; their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid. While these symptoms were first reported in Spain (giving the disease the nickname “Spanish Flu”), historical evidence points to the illness originating in the United States, specifically in Kansas. The disease spread quickly throughout the world – thanks in part to the movement of World War I troops. As soldiers returned to their homes, they brought the Spanish Flu with them. Between 1918 and 1919, an estimated 650,000 Americans and 50 million people across the world died during this pandemic. However, information about the pandemic and the government’s strategy to manage it in the United States varied. For more information about the Spanish Flu and its impact in Ohio, check out our History Blog.

The similarities between a pandemic that happened over 100 years ago and the one of today are hard to ignore. The question becomes, how can we help our students view the present by understanding the past?

Below is an activity to help your students connect the past to the present. This short, inquiry-based activity can last up to two class periods.

  1. Watch: View one of the below 1918 Spanish Influenza videos, produced by OSU students in the Motion Graphics class of the Department of Design – ACCAD. This provides a good overview of the topic.
  2. Ask: Have the students write down questions they have about the Spanish Flu from the video. Compile those questions and as a group, select one (1) question for the students to research on their own or in small groups.
  3. Share: Invite the students to share what they learned during their research. Remind them to focus on the facts, rather than interjecting their opinions or bias when sharing the information.
  4. Make Connections: Discuss what similarities and differences students see between the Spanish Flu and COVID-19 pandemics. How did government officials communicate with the public? What measures did they take to stop the spread of the disease? How can the past inform how we understand present day events?

If you’d like to broaden this activity, check out our February 2020 blog “Investigating Disease in History.” This post provides an activity for identifying specific examples of disease in history, explaining the consequences of disease on society and human systems, and discussing possible methods to prevent, contain, and eradicate diseases. Students take on the role of a national health organization board constructing a global pandemic prevention plan.

How do you tackle teching current events in your classroom? Do you have a go to activity you like to use? Let us by emailing [email protected]!


Here are some reputable websites to help your students conduct research about the Spanish Flu.

Blog post image citation: U.S. War Department. Medical Department – Influenza Epidemic 1918 – Masks for protection against influenza. Red Cross workers making anti-influenza masks for soldiers in camp. Photographic Print. Boston, MA: 1918. National Archives and Records Administration. (Accessed January 20, 2022)

Posted January 25, 2022

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