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Talking About COVID-19

Learning that examines complex problems or events can promote capability development and support young people to explore and understand issues, and make evidence-based decisions.



Learning and teaching that promotes opportunities for students to ask questions supports young people to explore, understand and take actions related to complex issues impacting their communities.


These strategies are designed for exploration of COVID-19. However, they can be applied to many different issues that impact communities.

Exploring a Socioscientific Issue: A 3-Step Strategy

3-stage process


The strategy facilitates learning that supports students to explore a socioscientific issue

  1. Exploring students' knowledge: finding out what students know and what they would like to know.
  2. Asking questions and exploring evidence through intentional activities in the classroom.
  3. Taking student-led discussions into homes and the community. 

The process of exploration and the development of understanding should be continuous throughout the learning journey.  


The Issue: The COVID-19 Pandemic

Big Learning Idea:

Develop and communicate evidence-based understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.

Teachers should develop and map learning objectives to support the direction of the inquiry that they are facilitating.

Learning objectives should identify capabilities (knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values) specific to the direction of inquiry.


Possible learning areas:

Learning that explores the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of a complex issue impacting society could involve one or more learning areas. 

Students will gain most if they are encouraged to use capabilities and ways of thinking from multiple learning areas.

  • Science and Health
  • Social Science (including history, economics, business studies...)
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Technology 
  • Languages and the arts
  • Communication and media studies

Exploring students' knowledge

There are multiple ways of facilitating this step. The following strategies are effective in facilitating students to explore what they know, and what they would like to find out about.

Global Health Continuum:

In this activity students explore the relative importance of a key global issue. There are multiple ways of doing this. A simple strategy is to give out cards with issues that name a health issue - e.g. COVID-19; diabetes; heart disease; etc. Working in small groups, students have to rank the issues and explain why they have selected this ranking. This is a good way of getting students to think about the relative impact of an issue. 


Brainstorm: COVID-19

  • This activity should be completed in a classroom setting; 3-4 students per group
  • Set group roles: Leader; recorder; timer, report back
  • Set ground rules. -e.g. everyone listens, everyone can contribute, all ideas are recorded
  • Display the focus question or questions e.g. "What is COVID-19?" | "How has COVID-19 impacted our community?" | "What body systems does COVID-19 effect?" | "How does COVID-19 spread? etc
  • Once the time limit is up, get each group to report back to the class. 
  • Record ideas using post-it notes or similar. 
  • Students should record a list of things they think they need to find out more about.

Alternative Strategies

A range of strategies are provided in the resource "Exploring Type 2 Diabetes: A socioscientific issue for my community"

New Zealand Edition: - see pages 27-31

Cook Islands edition: See pages 28-32



Asking questions and exploring evidence


Students should be encouraged to develop an overview chart that can be used to support the class to identify and summarise evidence related to questions about COVID-19. 

An evidence-informed strategy for facilitating a group-work based exploration of evidence is provided in Chapter 4 of "Exploring Type 2 Diabetes in my community". (Download the book from the link). This strategy can be easily applied to the context of COVID-19. 

We have developed a simple pamphet about COVID-19 that will stimulate questions. 

The pamphlet is currently available in country-specific versions for the Cook Islands. Please contact the LENScience team if you would like a version specific to your country. 


Taking conversations into the home and community


Our research has demonstrated that when students engage in exploring socioscientific issues in class, they often become science communicators within their peer group and family. Students also tell us that they appreciate having resources such as pamphlets to help facilitate conversations in their families. 

Some students need very little support to engage in conversations in the home. However, we have evidence that structured questions developed at school can support students to lead discussions in their families about socioscientific issues. One way of doing this is to set a task where students develop a short survey to find out what people in their peer group, family, village, sports team etc know about an issue. 

The Pacific Science for Health Literacy COVID-19 Vaccinations Pamphlet has been designed to support student-led conversations in the home and community.

Cook Islands schools can access print copies of this pamphlet in either Cook Islands Maori or English. Please contact the Ministry of Education if you have not received your pamphlets or need more. 

Reference: Bay, J.L., Vickers, M.H., Mora, H.A. et al. Adolescents as agents of healthful change through scientific literacy development: A school-university partnership program in New Zealand. IJ STEM Ed 4, 15 (2017).


Health and Safety

Teachers should be aware of the potential for exploration of COVID-19 or other health-related pandemic events to trigger emotional responses from students. 

Teachers should be aware of how to access appropriate support structures for students in their care.

Teachers should be aware of potential socio-cultural variance within their learning community and take steps to ensure the safety of all students.

The potential for bullying should be considered and appropriate steps taken to ensure student safety when discussing socioscientific and health-related issues.