U.S. National Institutes of Health

Getting Informed about Lead: Then and Now

History & Social Studies: Health Education
Three 45-60 minute class periods

Description: Students examine examples of past cases of lead poisoning and use primary and secondary sources to research and create lead-poisoning prevention posters.

In class 1, students analyze primary source items from the online exhibition This Lead Is Killing Us: A History of Citizens Fighting Lead Poisoning in Their Communities to investigate how and why people were exposed to lead in the past. In class 2, students research how children and adults may be exposed to lead today, including at home, at school, or on the job. Working in groups, students prepare informational posters on specific sources of lead in communities, schools, or workplaces. In class 3 students present their posters during a gallery walk and discuss their research findings on their posters.

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the health effects of lead in both written and visual formats
  • Distinguish between and analyze primary and secondary sources in a variety of formats, including photographs and advertisements
  • Gain familiarity with and use MedlinePlus and ToxTown as reliable sources of health information

This Lead is Killing Us: Citizens Fight Lead Poisoning in Their Communities explores how citizens, scientists, and medical professionals have fought to keep lead out of workplaces and communities. This online exhibition features different examples of how and when lead has impacted human health in the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition makes use of a variety of primary sources like photographs, advertisements, newspaper articles, official reports, and other materials to tell an important story of actions taken against this environmental danger. Teachers are encouraged to preview the exhibition website and become familiar with the following online resources that support class activities in this lesson:

The following words may be introduced/incorporated into the lessons. If additional guidance and current definitions are needed for the terms listed below, teachers may find them in the websites included in this lesson plan.

  • caption, primary source, secondary source, lead, industrial health, toxicity, tetraethyl lead, lead sulphate, smelting, glazing, enameling, ingestion, pathologist, anemia, tremors, learning and developmental disabilities, convulsions


  • Primary Source Analysis (PDF, MSWord); Teacher’s Primary Source Analysis (PDF)
  • Poster Research and Planning (PDF, MSWord)
  • Gallery Walk Poster Evaluation (PDF, MSWord)

Other Materials

(Preparation: Prior to class, ask students to review the This Lead Is Killing Us online exhibition and come to class with 1-2 sentences written about a specific object, document, or image that they found interesting. Have the exhibition website open and on display while students enter.)

  1. Begin class by asking a few volunteers to share their 1-2 sentences on a specific item in the exhibition. While each student speaks, display the item and ask if any other students found the object interesting. If so, ask them to explain why. Collect students 1-2 sentence responses to the exhibition.
  2. Ask students to turn to their neighbor and discuss what they remember from the exhibition about the effects of lead on children and adults. After a few moments, bring the class back together. Display the MedlinePlus web page on lead poisoning (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002473.htm), using the page to affirm or correct what students learned about health effect of lead poisoning from This Lead Is Killing Us.
  3. Have students form groups of two or three students. Hand out the Primary Source Analysis worksheet and assign each group to analyze one of the primary sources from This Lead Is Killing Us below. While students work, circulate among students and offer guidance or support for document analysis as needed.
  4. After students have had a chance to evaluate their exhibition item sources, bring the class back together. Ask each group to describe their source and explain why it is an important, useful, and reliable piece of evidence about the history of lead poisoning.
  5. To close class, ask students how they will answer the question “what is something you know about lead now that you did not know before?” Have them turn to a neighbor and share their answers.
  6. Class 1 evaluation: The homework sentences and class discussion on lead allow an assessment of students’ understanding of the past lead poisoning cases, as well as its harmful effects on human health. Teachers also review the Primary Source Analysis worksheet to evaluate how students use primary and secondary source materials to contextualize them to deepen their knowledge about lead poisoning cases in the past.

(Preparation: Arrange desks into groups for 4-5 students and ensure that each group has access to at least one computer connected to the internet for research and materials for poster design. Write on the board “Who do you trust to give you good information about your health?” Ask them to write their answer to the question as they arrive in class.)

  1. Begin class by asking students to share their answer to the question “who do you trust to give you good information about your health?” Write their answers on the board.
  2. Ask students which sources listed on the board seem reliable to them? Which ones are not reliable? Refer to the MedlinePlus entries on Online Health Information (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000869.htm) and Evaluating Health Information (https://medlineplus.gov/evaluatinghealthinformation.html) for guidelines.
  3. Return to students their completed Primary Source Analysis handout from class 1. Ask them to recall the primary sources from This Lead Is Killing Us that they analyzed last class. Call on students to share whether the source seemed reliable and why. For suggested discussion guide, see Teacher’s Primary Source Analysis.
  4. Explain to students that although lead is now a regulated and monitored substance, it remains present in a number of products and the environment. Today, they will be working in groups to research some of the locations where people are exposed to lead and design a poster to educate people about those risks.
  5. Display the National Library of Medicine’s homepage (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/). Introduce the following online resources from the National Library of Medicine:
  6. Assign each group one of the twoNLM websites (Medline Plus or Toxtown). Have each group enter “lead” into the search bar and evaluate the results. Have each group provide a quick report on their assigned site that covers what information is available there and for whom it is intended.
  7. Hand out the Poster Research and Planning worksheet. Ask groups to begin their work. As students research and prepare their posters, circulate among students to offer guidance, clarification, or to help groups brainstorm ideas for their poster.
  8. At the end of class, ask students to write one question that they still have about what they researched today. Collect their responses.
  9. If students were unable to complete their posters in class, ask them to do so before the next class when they will review their posters and give a short presentation about what they learned.
  10. Class 2 Evaluation: The entry ticket provides teachers with a sense of students’ initial awareness of various sources of health information. During the research and poster planning process, teachers can observe students’ research habits and offer alternatives or support as needed. The exit ticket will reveal what students may have struggled to understand and offer teachers an opportunity to revisit those topics.

(Preparation: Same as Class 2, arrange desks into groups for 4-5 students and provide each group access to at least one computer connected to the Internet for research. Also, review any outstanding questions that students submitted at the end of class 2. Group similar questions together then write them on individual pieces of paper. Place and assign each group one piece of paper with an outstanding question.)

  1. Ask each group to research an answer to the question on their table. Some students may already know the answer to the question they have been assigned. That is okay. Explain that they will need to find documentation or sources to support that answer. While students work, walk around the room to provide guidance, clarification, and support as needed.
  2. After students have had a few minutes to research their questions, bring the class together. Ask each group to report out the answer they found.
  3. Ask groups to hang their posters up around the room. Distribute a copy of Gallery Walk Poster Evaluation to each student. Allow students to walk around the room and individually view the posters created by other groups while making notes on their worksheet.
  4. Bring the class together. Ask each group to present their poster. Encourage students to ask each other questions, drawing on the observations they wrote on the Poster Evaluation worksheet.
  5. Collect group posters, and each student’s completed Poster Research and Planning and Gallery Walk Poster Evaluation worksheets for evaluation.
  6. Optional: Display group posters in a school hallway or somewhere in the community (examples include a nearby public library, city hall, community center, or other popular location). If group posters will be displayed in public, inform students of the fact in advance of their assignment.
  7. End class by asking students to complete this sentence: “I used to think… but now I think…” Have students write their response and collect their exit tickets when they leave.
  8. Class 3 Evaluation: The entry ticket provides teachers with the opportunity to address outstanding questions while observing students doing research. The poster planning and evaluation worksheets offer the teacher a chance to review how students used different sources and documents their thought processes. The posters are evidence of the students’ ability to synthesize health information. The exit ticket reveals how students’ thinking about the dangers of lead exposure changed over the three class sessions.

  1. Ask students to research sources of lead in their community. Students can consult with the local water authority for water quality reports and find data about lead exposure from the local health department, both of which are often available online, or investigate the local industries and the products that they use or produce. Students should write a short newspaper article reporting on their findings.
  2. Listen to a recording of Jimmy Collier’s 1966 song “Lead Poison on the Wall” from the album Freedom on My Mind. Students should research Collier’s biography and the song’s lyrics using reliable online resources before analyzing the role that music can play in social movements and awareness campaigns. Reports can take any number of formats, including a written essay, original song, or poster.

History/Social Studies
    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, 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 that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
    Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
    Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
    Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Science & Technical Subjects
    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.
    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
    Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, identifying important issues that remain unresolved.
    Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
    Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
National Health Education Standards
  • 3.8.1: Analyze the validity of health information, products, and services.
  • 3.8.4: Describe situations that may require professional health services.
  • 8.8.4: Identify ways in which health messages and communication techniques can be altered for different audiences.