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Coronavirus Teaching

These learning activities introduce students to the biology of the novel coronavirus, including coronavirus replication, immune system responses to coronavirus infection, how mutations and natural selection work together to produce spillover infections like COVID-19, and the scientific research basis for public health recommendations to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

COVID-19 Vaccines – How do they work?

Graphs of antibody responses after exposure to coronavirus

Students learn that vaccination or a previous coronavirus infection reduces the risk of severe Covid-19.

They learn how the immune system responds to a coronavirus infection and analyze how this response differs after a first vs. second exposure to the coronavirus.

Then, students analyze the biological effects of an mRNA vaccine and develop an evidence-based explanation of how vaccination protects against severe Covid-19.

Coronavirus Evolution and the Covid-19 Pandemic

In this analysis and discussion activity, students learn that the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic very probably originated in bats. Students analyze how mutations and natural selection can produce a spillover infection.

Next, students learn how natural selection increased the frequency of a mutation that made the coronavirus more contagious.

Finally, students analyze how mutations contributed to the spread of the Omicron variant and its subvariants.

How to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19

In this activity, students analyze information about how the coronavirus is transmitted and how to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. Several questions engage students in thinking about how their behavior influences the risk of COVID-19 for more vulnerable individuals.

Coronaviruses – What They Are and How They Can Make You Sick

Cross section of Coronavirus

In the shorter version of the Student Handout, students learn how coronaviruses are replicated inside our cells, how white blood cells fight a coronavirus infection, and how a coronavirus infection can cause you to feel sick.

In the longer version of the Student Handout, students also learn how the respiratory and circulatory systems work together to provide oxygen to the body’s cells, and they learn how a coronavirus infection can interfere with oxygen delivery, which can result in severe disease.

Resources for Teaching about Coronavirus

Microscopic image of SARS CoV-2Our understanding of the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change rapidly. The following resources for teaching high school biology students are up-to-date as of November 2022. Previously provided resources are available at (Archived).

On this page:

Learning Activities

For the first four learning activities listed below, the links lead to Student Handouts (available in Word, PDF, and as a Google doc) and Teacher Notes that include instructional suggestions, background information, links to additional sources of information, and an explanation of how each activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (#NGSS).

How Genes Can Cause Disease – Understanding Transcription and Translation

Transcription with RNA nucleotides

In the first section of this analysis and discussion activity, students learn that different versions of a gene give the instructions for making different versions of a clotting protein, which result in normal blood clotting or hemophilia.

Next, students learn how genes provide the instructions for making a protein via the processes of transcription and translation. They develop an understanding of the roles of RNA polymerase, the base-pairing rules, mRNA, tRNA and ribosomes.

Finally, students use their learning about transcription and translation to understand how a change in a single nucleotide in the hemoglobin gene can result in sickle cell anemia.

Throughout this activity, students use the information in brief explanations, figures and videos to answer analysis and discussion questions.

This activity can be used to introduce students to transcription and translation or to reinforce and enhance student understanding. 

If you prefer a hands-on activity that uses simple paper models to simulate the molecular processes of transcription and translation, see “How Genes Can Cause Disease – Introduction to Transcription and Translation” (

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