Teaching Module

Health in England (16th–18th c.)

Lesson Plan: Health in England (16th–18th c.)

by Sharon Cohen

Time Estimated: three 45-minute classes


  1. Students will be able to identify possible connections between the lack of modern conveniences and health, hygiene, and illness among children in early modern England.
  2. Students will be able to debate the extent to which parents demonstrated attachment to children in a period of high mortality for infants and young children.


  • Printouts of primary sources sufficient for each student to have a full set of the texts and images in the Health in England Teaching Module. 1
  • Highlighters
  • Index cards

Day One

Ask students to imagine life without modern conveniences such as electricity, sewers, and clean water by listing ten possible effects on health, hygiene, and illness. Then, with a partner, have them predict which of those effects were common among children in early modern England. Make a class list of these predictions to post for comparison later.

Students will read the primary sources looking for any connections between the lack of modern conveniences and health, hygiene, and illness among children. One strategy to help with close reading is to help the students generate lists of typical words they might find in the text, and then encouraging them to underline or highlight the words associated with a lack of conveniences (such as lack of clean water for drinking or washing) and circle or highlight the words associated with symptoms of illness (complexion, fever, fits, pain, sweat, swollen, shivers, blisters) and treatments (ointment, medicine, bloodletting, fasting, bed rest). Have the students turn in their annotated sources. Check to make sure they found most of the key words. If not, show them to the students the next day.

Day Two: Debate Prep

Return the annotated sources and ask students to share with a partner the words that appeared the most often.

With partners, have students try to translate those words into lists:

  • identifying the common illnesses of children and youth in early modern England and
  • identifying the remedies suggested and by whom.

They should write these analyses of the sources in the margins.

Students prepare for a debate on whether parents in early modern England tried not to become too attached to their children, as infant and child mortality was so high.

Day Three: The Debate

Debate Directions
Divide the class into two groups (pro and con).

Assign each student a specific speaking role in the debate.

  • Each group has a different student make the opening statement and the closing statement.
  • Each group has six main pieces of evidence delivered by six different students.
  • Each group also assigns six students to critique the evidence delivered on the basis of the authority or reliability and perspective of the source.
  • That's 28 student roles. Adjust as necessary for the size of the class. If the class is larger, assign students to critique the arguments and evidence used overall in the debate and then report on their assessment at the end.


Some strategies for supporting and challenging students are already included in the lesson. For struggling readers, the sources might need to be translated into modern English, and perhaps even analyzed together as a class. The preparation for the debate for students still learning how to construct and support arguments might take an extra day, so the teacher can speak individually with each student to guide the framing of the arguments and selection of evidence to support the main points. To challenge students further, it might be possible for them to find additional evidence not included in this module, even perhaps going beyond the borders of England to compare the attitudes and practices toward children's health in other places.

How to Cite This Source

Lynda Payne, "Health in England (16th–18th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #166, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/166 (accessed August 10, 2021).