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Lesson Plans

Fighting HIV/AIDS Stigma: a Case Study

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Grade level 10–12 | Subject - health education, history and social studies
time needed

two 45-minute class periods


This lesson plan introduces concepts of stigma in the context of health issues, using several HIV/AIDS related primary and secondary sources from 1980s and 1990s. In Class 1, students review and define words, stigma and stigmatize, as well as find its use from three different texts—a blog excerpt and an activity introduction text. Students then apply their understanding of the word in the context of HIV/AIDS in analyzing several HIV/AIDS posters from 1980s and 1990. In Class 2, students review their analyses of HIV/AIDS posers from the previous class, and are introduced to Jonathan Mann’s speech at the 1987 United Nations General Assembly. First students listen to an audio excerpt of the speech. Secondly they read the whole speech and identify one interesting item in it. Lastly, students are assigned to read the speech closely and write its summary as homework.

  • learning outcomes
    Students will be able to
    • Define stigma and stigmatize and list synonyms and antonyms of “stigmatize.”
    • Describe at least two effects of HIV/AIDS stigma during 1980s and 1990s.
    • Articulate education as one of the strategies in fighting stigma of a disease.
    • Analyze both textual and visual elements in primary and secondary sources in examples of posters that promoted education about HIV/AIDS in de-stigmatizing HIV/AIDS.
  • background information

    This lesson plan addresses HIV/AIDS in a historical context, in order for students to explore the concept of stigma related to health issues. Teachers are encouraged to assess students’ maturity and their personal experiences with and sensitivity about HIV/AIDS in order to plan for appropriate ways to solicit responses from students during discussion and writing activities. Teachers may remind or provide direct instruction to students about the importance of the privacy of personal health information, and about being respectful and sensitive in the language they use when referring to others and themselves throughout the lesson.

    The lesson incorporates use of several HIV/AIDS public health posters from 1980s and 1990. The posters provide examples of how different organizations tried to provide all people access to accurate information that would prevent HIV/AIDS and care for those who live with the disease. In doing so, the poster examples provide visual and textual evidence that students can analyze in how the efforts focused on empowering people with information to dispel fear and stigma about HIV/AIDS. Teachers can encourage students to offer their own interpretations and analyses about the posters and class readings, while guiding students to articulate and substantiate their thinking with concrete evidence from the primary and secondary source materials at hand—e.g., visual and textual items both present or not present.

    Teachers may gather background information on the history of HIV and AIDS in the United States from the online exhibition, Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture, as well as “ 30 Years of HIV/AIDS Timeline,” a PDF document available on Thirty Years of AIDS at the website.

  • vocabulary

    The following words may be introduced or incorporated during class discussions: stigma, stigmatize, stigmatization [Synonyms: label, disgrace, denounce, blame, condemn, etc.; Antonyms: de-stigmatize, respect, approve, praise, support, defend, protect, primary source, contextualize, HIV (human immunodeficiency syndrome), AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), lest, epidemic, pandemic

  • materials
    Print All Materials
    • Group 1 Poster Analysis Chart (PDF, MSWord); Teacher’s Group 1 Poster Analysis Chart (PDF)
    • Group 2 Poster Analysis Chart (PDF, MSWord)
    Other materials and set-ups:
  • class 1 procedures
    1. Introduce the word, “stigma,” in the context of health issues, using the following excerpted sentence from a blog entry: “…Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS is probably the most prominent form of disease stigma in the late 20th and early 21st centuries…”[Sara Gorman, “What can we learn from disease stigma’s long history?.” in Speaking of Medicine: PLOS Medicine Community Blog. November 28, 2012]
    2. Tell students that they will explore the concept of “disease stigma” using HIV/AIDS as a case study.
    3. Write on the board the word, “stigmatize.” Have students work in pairs to list on a chart paper three synonyms and three antonyms for “stigmatize,” and to write two sentences that includes the word or its derivatives.
    4. Have students post their chart paper around the classroom and review them as a class, clarifying any misunderstanding.
    5. Introduce and display the “Advocating for Facts, Dispelling Rumors” online activity. Tell students that this online activity provides some examples of HIV/AIDS posters from 1980s and 1990s when HIV/AIDS and its stigma became a top public health concern.
    6. From the activity display, read aloud the introduction statement: “The fear of AIDS and resulting stigma for those facing the disease made getting accurate information to diverse audiences more difficult. Many people were afraid even to ask questions, lest they be marked with the societal shame then associated with AIDS. These posters and booklets, all designed for general audiences by various AIDS service organizations, reflected a variety of strategies to promote the spread of facts about the disease instead of rumors. They reminded people that everyone needed to have accurate information about AIDS and places where that information existed.”
    7. Tell students that each of them will examine one of the four posters in the “Advocating for Facts, Dispelling Rumors” online activity, and analyze the purpose and approaches that the poster used to empower people with accurate information about HIV/AIDS in their fighting fear of and de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS.
    8. Give each student one of the four copies of Poster Analysis Chart. Review the handout as a class, and point out the poster titles on the first sentence so that students can identified their assigned posters. Allow students time to look at the posters, read their descriptions, and answer questions on the handout.
    9. Call together the class and conduct a discussion of the posters as students volunteer their answers to the handout questions. See Teacher’s Group 1 Poster Analysis Chart for possible student responses that may guide the class discussion.
    10. Tell students that they will apply the same analysis exercise in examining other HIV/AIDS posters. Hand out two copies of Group 2 Poster Analysis Chart to each student. Put students in pairs and assign each pair two of the six Group 2 posters from the online activity. Have student pairs complete their poster analyses and turn them in at the end of the class.
    11. Class 1 Evaluation: Teachers may evaluate student progress through class discussion and informal observations. The completed Poster Analysis Chart handouts also provide assessment of students’ understanding of the concepts, which may inform teachers about adding any remediation activities to Class 2.
  • class 2 procedures
    1. Return to students their completed Group 2 Poster Analysis Chart from Class 1. Display the Group 2 posters from the online activity and use students’ analyses of each poster in conducting a review and class discussion.
    2. Tell students that HIV/AIDS was the first disease discussed before the UN General assembly in 1987 due to its global impact and spread. Display the online “Jonathan Mann and the Global Programme on AIDS” audio transcript. Tell students that Jonathan Mann headed up the World Health Organization’s global AIDS program and spoke about AIDS and the global program at the 1987 United Nations General Assembly.
    3. Play the audio for students to listen and/or read aloud the audio transcript, on display. Have students re-read the second excerpt, “The epidemic taught us….cases is itself a root cause of the epidemic,” and have them rephrase the excerpt in their own words—e.g., HIV/AIDS stigma not only violates human rights, but also contributes to the spread of the disease.
    4. Provide students access to the online speech or copies of its printouts. Assign students to read and write down at least one or two information related to the stigma or education of HIV/AIDS.
    5. Ask several students to share the information or concepts that they noted, and allow for several different points to be made.
    6. Assign students to write a full summary of Mann’s speech as homework to bring to next class.
    7. End the class by asking students to think about how and why Mann advocated for de-stigmatizing HIV/AIDS, as they re-read the last two paragraphs on page 3 ending at the top of page 4: “Fear and ignorance about AIDS continue to lead to tragedies:…that we maintain AIDS infected persons within society, we protect society. This is the message of realism and of tolerance.”
    8. Class 2 Evaluation: Teachers can use class discussion and informal observations to evaluate student progress, as well as students’ summaries of Mann’s speech to be turned in later.
  • extensions
    1. Students research and write an essay related to HIV/AIDS stigma. Teachers may provide the following three websites to help students start their research:
    2. Students may identify other illnesses that have been stigmatized in the past or currently. They work as a small group to research and create an educational poster or video that defines and informs about the selected health issue while dispelling stigma associated with it. Teachers may provide the following online research resources, as well as the project rubric by which the group project will be evaluated as listed below:

      Research resources: Project assessment rubric:

      • Includes known, factual information about the causes and symptoms of the disease
      • Provides at least two ways in which one can get more information
      • Contextualizes the importance of de-stigmatizing the disease
      • Identifies all sources of the information included
    3. Students may find current examples of HIV/AIDS education materials (billboards, brochures, radio or TV ads, etc.) in order to
      • evaluate how they foster HIV/AIDS prevention and dispel attitude that discriminate, stigmatize, and marginalize people associated with the disease;
      • conduct research into the evolution of ad campaigns throughout the recent history of HIV-AIDS, including the role of artists, actors, and musicians; or
      • create their own materials for a targeted audiences—e.g., other students, family members, retail store customers, etc.`
  • Common Core State Standards
    For English/Language Arts in History/Social Studies
    • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information; and connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
    • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text; and provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas
    • Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science
    • Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade appropriate topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.