Festive Viral Fun

So, what kind of teacher are you?

When Year 11 start Infectious Disease, I always get them to build Jolly Christmas Viruses. There’s quite a variety of cut and stick models easily accessible on-line…

virus model

…and if you photocopy them on to lots of different coloured card and lay in industrial supplies of glue and glitter and pipe-cleaners, you can’t really go wrong.

I do insist that every virus be different. I show them a clip from Secret Life of the Cell (about 15 minutes in) where we see an adeno-virus gain access to the cell using its antigen and a cell receptor (this kind of hinting at the glorious complexity of A-level Biology is all part of my retention and recruitment plan).

And then I put on some salsa music and let them get on with it for an hour…

When they’re done, they attach a bit of cotton thread and we dangle them from the lab ceiling, where they quietly drizzle glitter on innocent students for the rest of the year…


Here’s a not-particularly-special bacteriophage in mid-dangle.

I’ve worked with teachers who utterly fail to see the point of this lesson. It addresses no learning outcomes, it delivers no information, it utterly fails to tick a single learning objective on the specification, it uses up valuable Copy The Notes From The Powerpoint time…. I think they panic because they feel out of control – the students are working autonomously, and this is an uncomfortable feeling if you’re not used to it.


It’s fun.

It’s different.

It’s memorable.

They will do wonderful things – one student produced a virus with a little portrait of Justin Bieber at the end of each antigen – the virus that causes Bieber Fever….

It gets them asking all kinds of interesting and relevant questions.

Because how can something so tiny (a virus to a football is the same as a football to the planet Earth…) and so simple (bad news wrapped in protein) make you ill? Discussion of rabies and smallpox and herpes and AIDS all follow naturally.

Which leads nicely to Immunology. Try my simplified animated Powerpoint as an introduction to Clonal Selection and Expansion…

Immune response


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