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PiggiFlu is coming

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Simulation
Topic: Immune system

As a new flu virus arrives in Britain, people are rightly getting worried. Will there be a pandemic? Will millions be killed? That is the scenario for this gripping simulation of how a viral disease spreads. The activity is ideal for getting the whole school involved. It is interactive and relevant, involves large numbers of students at low cost, and has photo opportunities and potential family involvement. The simulation continues for a set period, perhaps 5 days. After that, students can use the data to focus on how diseases spread.
This activity has been re-edited from the earlier AviFlu / Zars activity. It’s done a few laps as an Upd8 favourite.

It is obviously vital to consider the current situation, and the circumstances of individual students, when deciding how – and whether – to run this activity.

See below for a Teachers TV programme made about using a ‘classroom’ based alternative to the whole school simulation.

11-14 How Science Works:
1.1 scientific thinking
• a using models to explain phenomena

1.2 Applications and implications of science
• a exploring how the creative application of scientific ideas can bring about technological developments and consequent changes in the way people think and behave

Published: 7th May 2009
Reviews & Comments: 7

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Learning objectives

Students will learn
• about how pandemics spread
• why a virus such as swine flu may be dangerous to humans

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1.1 scientific thinking
• a using models to explain phenomena

1.2 Applications and implications of science
• a exploring how the creative application of scientific ideas can bring about technological developments and consequent changes in the way people think and behave

3.3 organisms, behaviour and health
• c health can be affected by disease

Running the activity

The PiggiFlu is coming poster (page1) can be displayed around the school beforehand to create suspense. Before the simulation starts, decide for how long and on what scale to run the activity. The number of viruses given to each infected student controls the rate at which it spreads and needs to be chosen to suit the size of the school. Examples are shown in the tables below. The activity starts in earnest with a message appearing on school notice boards: “On Monday morning one person will arrive in school infected by the PiggiFlu virus”. One teacher needs to be nominated to be the first host of the disease, and given an hour to pass it on. There are two main roles for the students. They can be part of the medical team or part of the population. The students in the medical team will need to be briefed and equipped before the activity starts. The paper ‘virus’ (page 2) has instructions to tell infected students what they have to do.

• Those with the virus are only ‘infectious’ for the first hour.
• Anyone who spends 5 minutes within 2 m of an ‘infectious’ person can get the disease.
• At the end of the hour the ‘infectious’ person passes the virus to up to 4 of these people.
• At the next lesson break, those who have received the virus have to report to the ‘medical team’.
• The ‘medical team’ is based in the reception area and records when each victim was infected.
• Those infected receive an ‘infected’ badge (page 5), and up to 4 copies of the virus (page2).

• They have an hour to pass on the viruses.
• ‘Infected’ badges, have to be kept hidden until the end of the infectious period, and then worn.
• After 4 hours, or the next day, those with ‘infected’ badges return to the ‘medical team’ to find out whether they live or die.
• Those who die receive ‘victim’ badges (page 7), and take a victim card (page 4). Those who survive receive ‘survivor’ badges (page 6), and take a survivor card (page 3). In an interesting twist one school excused those who had died from wearing school uniform. This added to the visual impact.

The medical team needs to have at least 2 students on duty at each lesson break. They give ribbons, or badges, and paper viruses to infected students and record an I next to their names in an Excel spreadsheet. If different columns are used for each morning and afternoon, the spread of the disease can be monitored. When infected students return, after four hours, they throw a dice. Those with odd numbers die. The rest survive. The medical team record the outcome and hand out the appropriate ribbons or badges. They should also provide twice daily updates of the total numbers infected, new infections, and deaths.

Equipment needed
(See tables below for an estimate of the numbers).
Poster materials and notice board space.
A table in the reception area for the medical team equipped with:
• A computer with an Excel file of student names arranged by tutor group and a list of teachers.
• Dice.
• Paper viruses (page 2).
• Victim (page4) and survivor (page3) cards.
• Strips of purple, black and white ribbon and safety pins, or printed badges (pages 5-7). These are designed to be printed or photocopied onto Avery No. L7163 self adhesive address labels. Or any ‘14 to a sheet’ label stationery.
• The ”infected” badges will need to be cut out so that they retain their backing paper as students need to keep them hidden for an hour before they wear them.

Further Guidance
Victims of the virus could be excused school uniform so that it becomes a popular and visible option.

Each class could represent a country and the spread of the virus across the school form rooms could be reported as if they were separate countries. E.g. On Tuesday the outbreak reached Japan (form 9TS). Six were initially infected and eventually the disease killed eight people.

The simulation could be extended by letting a trial vaccine ‘become available’. Uninfected students could opt to take it. It could be 50% effective and last for 1 day. Vaccinated students could be given certificates. They would need to take them to the medical team when they reported as infectious. The medical team would note who was vaccinated on the spreadsheet. 1 in 2 of the vaccinated students who would otherwise die could be allowed to live.

A science lesson could be used to analyse the spread of the disease, using the data from the simulation. Graphs could be plotted, and the patterns discussed. The conclusions could be presented as an assembly.

Teachers should note that there is a related UPD8 activity on the science behind bird flu. See BIRDFLU-Can Science Save us?

In a large school you could give out the viruses like this:

Day Number of viruses each infected pupil is given to pass on
Monday 4
Tuesday 3
Wednesday 2
Thursday 1
Friday the virus has mutated and is uninfectious

Which gives the following maximum involvement:

infectious infected survivors/victims
Monday am 1 4 0
Monday pm 4 16 0
Tuesday am 16 48 5
Tuesday pm 48 144 21
Wednesday am 144 288 69
Wednesday pm 288 576 213
Thursday am 572 576 501
Thursday pm 572 572 1,073
Friday am 0 572 1,645
Friday pm 0 0 2,217

In a small school you could give out the viruses as follows:

Day Number of viruses each infected pupil is given to pass on
Monday 3
Tuesday 3
Wednesday 2
Thursday 1 (In some schools everyone may be infected by now)
Friday the virus has mutated and is uninfectious

Teachers TV lesson
Watch the Teachers TV programme about using a similar resource as a classroom activity. Contact about a suitable UV dye. Click on UV security or UV detective in the menu on the LHS of the homepage.

Similarities and differences between computer viruses and biological viruses
Class question and answer managed by Diane
Use earlier Upd8 activity “Virus” (attached)

Main activity Group work
Class works with laminated resources (x approx 15) from the internet sources to prepare poster display answers to 5 important questions
What is a virus and what does it do?
Why is the H5N1 virus so virulent?
What happens to make you die?
Why do some people survive?
What could you do to avoid dying of AviFlu?
(some of these laminated resources are covered with a UV fluorescent material that will be transferred onto the pupils hands)
Outcomes must be ready at 10.50 am

Finisher activity – role play 10.50 onwards
Using AviFlu activity sheets
Nigel Heslop introduced in the role of a heath control official. He is tracking the spread of the virus. He explains that Mrs Allum-Wilson is a carrier and shows the UV lamp to detect the fluorescent “virus”
He recruits Shani, Sophie and Lauren as agents and checks as many of the class as possible giving stickers to those infected and rolling the dice to see if the student survives or dies.

News links

UK government
Government health advice and download of the flu leaflet
FAQ about swine flu
US Center for Disease Prevention
Good stats, but for the USA
BBC story about the 1918 pandemic. '1918 killer flu secrets revealed.'

Media links

Teachers TV programme on running the activity
Watch this upd8 activity in action, the way Teachers TV filmed it. lNote: the lesson represented a virus as a UV-visible dye, to model the spread of the virus by touch. In the version published here we use paper viruses. If you want to use the (more dramatic) UV version you can now buy the dye from (Click on UV security or UV detective).

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Nov 18th, 2009

5 Star

A good idea, IF you can get a whole school to do it.
Otherwise this was severely limited ( to a single lesson), with most of the activities ignored. Teachers just put some fluorescent die on a few glue sticks, then used a uv lamp to see who was infected. The infected children then threw a die to see if they died.

Reviewer: Hannah Fulcher


Aug 27th, 2009

3 Star

This activity looks absolutely brilliant but I was unable to use it. I have very small classes (5-10) so this type of activity really would not work.

Reviewer: Susan Houlbrook

Piggi flu

Jul 3rd, 2009

5 Star

I used this to teach core science with year 10 "non scientists". With a little adaptation the pupils really got the point of it all and really enjoyed the lesson. Of course this is a good activity that can be differentiated for the target group

Many thanks

Reviewer: Dave Dennis

Piggiflu activity.

May 22nd, 2009

2 Star

I work in a Special School and run KS3/4 Science. Pupil ability levels up to L5 majority 3 or 4. I know that you have carried out a great deal of work developing this topic but I am quite uneasy at the thought of delivering this to my older pupils who are very aware of the serious and very real implications of swine flu.
The rest of your work is fantastic but I feel that
this one is not for me !

S.W. Palmer.

Reviewer: Stephen Palmer

Alternative supplier of UV dye

May 19th, 2009

5 Star

The activity is very good. The UV dye can also be purchased from Glowtec Ltd at the following web address The sales team are very helpful and will do next day delivery on urgent orders.

Reviewer: Joanne Broadbent


May 13th, 2009

5 Star

looks very interesting, I am thinking of planning it to my year 9 next week after their final exam.

Reviewer: Nawal Majid


May 12th, 2009

3 Star

I might use this in a while (maybe next year), but it seems inappropriate at the moment while there are still children dying of swine flu, and schools closed nearby.

Reviewer: n baker