“The fact that there was no catastrophic pandemic in recent history does not mean there won't be another one. And we are certainly not prepared for the next pandemic.”

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft (speaking in 2017)
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This free ESL lesson plan on pandemics has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

In the very recent past, a global pandemic was a real but theoretical threat. Now, however, the world has had the misfortune to suffer through the global coronavirus pandemic, costing over a million lives and untold damage to the world economy. For many years, experts had been warning of this threat, yet it appears they were not taken as seriously as they should have been. It is vital that the world learn from this outbreak in order to be better prepared for any future pandemics. In this ESL lesson plan on pandemics, students will have the opportunity discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the dangers of pandemics and how to prepare for them.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Science Mag | “Can you put a price on COVID-19 options?”

The article talks about the dilemma between protecting lives during a pandemic versus the economic costs of strict lockdowns. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What did they think about the content of the article? Did they agree with what was written? Can they think of any ways they might disagree?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is a TED Talk that Bill Gates gave in 2015 warning of a lack of preparedness for a future global pandemic. To highlight this risk, he referred to the Ebola epidemic that affected several countries in West Africa and gave some recommendations so that the world could be equipped to deal with a global outbreak.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including pandemics from history, the connection between pandemics and environmental problems and the measures people can take to protect themselves during an outbreak of an infectious disease.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with pandemics such as lockdown vs quarantine, epidemic vs pandemic and flatten the curve. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about pandemics and how they affect society. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as whether or not global pandemics will become more common in the future, how governments can protect poor people and businesses during a lockdown, and what conspiracy theories exist around infectious diseases.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of how to prepare for a pandemic. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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