Zika virus: a conversation lesson for adults

This lesson was aimed at two students I have who are doctors, but it can be used with adult students in general as this is a hot topic in Brazil at the moment. Here you’re going to find a video and article, both from The New York Times, to help your students to talk about the Zika virus outbreak.

Start the lesson by showing students a picture of the aedes aegypti and eliciting the topic of the lesson.


Ask students how much they know about the Zika virus and tell them they are going to watch a video about it. Show them the while-watching questions below. If you think students know a lot about the topic, get them to try to answer the questions first and then confirm them when they watch the video.

  • When was the Zika virus first seen in Brazil?
  • What are its symptoms?
  • Has the Zika virus been proved to cause microcephaly and Guillain-Barré?
  • What other diseases can the mosquito carry?

Click here for the video, which will open on The New York Times website.

Check answers with students and then show them the picture below. Elicit from students if they know what this is and how much is costs.


Tell students they are going to read an article a Brazilian journalist wrote for the New York Times. The original article can be found here and my adapted version is below.

Long Sleeves and Bug Spray in São Paulo (NYT)

Show students the specific information questions and ask them to answer them individually, then compare answers in pairs.

  • Why are Brazilians desperate to buy Exposis Extrême? Is it easy to find?
  • What are different countries recommending pregnant women do?
  • Why are some Brazilian women less worried than others?
  • Which sport does the author suggest should be included in the Olympic Games?

Once you have checked the answers, organize a follow-up discussion and ask students whether they feel they have enough information about the Virus or if the government in Brazil is doing enough to fight it. If want to spice the discussion up, you can ask students whether they agree with abortion in cases of microcephaly.

Alternatively, you can decide to work with the vocabulary from the text which is very rich. These were the words I chose, but there are some other interesting ones as well.

be deemed

an outbreak of

to come down with

to postpone

be urged to

be overblown

to count on chance

to afford

You can provide definitions for students to match these to or ask them to try to guess meaning from context in pairs. After you have clarified the meaning and pronunciation, get students to answer some questions using this target language.

  • Can you think of any other recent outbreaks of diseases?
  • What do you do when you come down with a strong cold?
  • The article says women are being urged not to get pregnant this summer. Do you think that is a good idea?
  • It seems that the government has deemed TV commercials to be the best way to fight the mosquito. Do you agree?
  • Do you think some of the corruption scandals are being overblown?
  • Have you ever had to postpone a trip because of a health problem?
  • There are people who like to count on chance and not plan their trips. Are you like that?
  • Are there any things that you can’t afford now but that you’d like to do or have in the future?

As a freer practice activity you can get students to create their own questions or to create a dialogue that includes 2-3 of these. You could also give students a topic for conversation (e.g. what are your plans for the next holiday weekend?) and tell them to use 2-3 of these expressions while they discuss the topic with their partner.

Thanks for reading.

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