Black Plague Activity

Would you believe this is an activity that I created as an introduction to our physics unit on simple machines, gizmos and gadgets?!! Sometimes inspiration just hits! So here’s how it came to be.  I was doing some background reading on Sir Isaac Newton, the scientist who developed the Laws of Motion among other things. I learned that while he was at Cambridge University an outbreak of the Black Plague broke out and closed the school for two years.   He went home and made some pretty interesting discoveries.  Intrigued I went on to read more about the Black Plague in London in 1665:

In my google searches I came across a really fantastic simulation about the Black Plague. I adapted the general premiss of this activity and created our own Black Plague Activity. This was a huge success with the kids!

In our activity, Newton made a pretend trip visiting a number of cities in England. He traveled from Cambridge to Oxford, then on to Bristol and London, continuing on to Maidstone and Canturbury and then making his way back through Maidstone and London home to Cambridge. Along the way he spent either one or two nights (blindly picking tiles out of a bag to see if he contracted the plague while visiting that city). If he did not contract the disease he continued on his way. If he contracted the Plague then he spread the disease to two more towns before dying (and losing the game).

First we had to set up the game. We learned that as much as 20% of London’s population may have died from the plague.  With this in mind, we placed 2 red tiles (plague) and 8 blue tiles in the London bag. We did the same for Oxford and Bristol since they are on a river (and may have been infected as ships came to port, that’s what I told the kids at least).  For Cambridge, Maidstone and Canterbury we placed just one plague/red tile and 9 blue tiles in the bags.

blue tiles=healthy

red tile=black plague

yellow tile=black plague (from a traveler)

As the player went from city to city she stayed either one or two nights depending on the roll of the die (1,2,3=one night; 4,5,6=two nights).  Then without looking she had to pull that many tiles out of the bag. If she pulled a blue tile she was healthy and continued on to the next town (rolling the die again and pulling either one or two tiles depending on the roll of the die for how many nights she was to stay in the town).  If she pulled a red (or yellow) tile she contracted the plague.  She continued on to two more towns rolling the die and ADDING yellow plague tiles to the bag (1,2,3=one yellow plague tile; 4,5,6=two yellow plague tiles) before dying and losing the game.

The kids LOVED this activity! They could easily see that the more travelers that came through, the more chance there was of spreading the disease and dying. In fact, by the time we had played six or seven rounds we couldn’t get much farther than Oxford or Bristol before contracting the plague and dying.

For those of you who might be interested (or who might want to print it out for future use), I wrote up instructions with a few more details about how we played the game. You can download the Black Plague Activity Instructions here.

You can download our Black Plague Activity Instructions here.



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  1. by Angel-lena

    On April 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I find this cool because DD wants to be a doctor. She would like this. She’s so curious about what makes people sick and why/what to do about it, etc.

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