Henrietta Lacks Activities

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Build your high school students' knowledge by using these individual, partner, and team activities to teach them about Henrietta Lacks. Activities include a historical study, an exploration of her family, and an understanding of ethical considerations.

Henrietta Lacks Activities

Use these team, partner, and independent activities with your high school students to explore the Henrietta Lacks story on a deep level. Analyzing her experiences and her cells' lasting impact can help students as they grapple with the ethical considerations involved in this case. To stage each of the activities, you will need access to technology or extensive research on Henrietta's story available to students. Encourage your students to search beneath the surface of this fascinating story and the incredible impact on medicine that Henrietta has made without even knowing it.

The History of Henrietta

In this activity, you can guide your students through the process of researching parts of Henrietta's life. Beyond her unknowing contribution to the fields of Science and Medicine, Henrietta's life was one of complexity, family, and future hopes and dreams. Begin by brainstorming student questions about Henrietta's life before she was diagnosed with cancer. Then, explore questions about her illness specifically. Lastly, identify some questions students have about her family and her legacy.

Divide the questions so that each student has only one question to answer. Provide students with access to technology and guidance on using reliable sources to find the answer. If students quickly find the answer, verify that it is correct, and challenge them to continue to a new question. At the end of the activity, consider having teams create a question-and-answer poster or online version of what they found.

  • Materials: a basic history of Henrietta Lacks (overview), poster paper and markers (optional), access to technology

Family Matters

In this activity, you can help your students explore more about Henrietta's family when they learned that her cells were used. Either provide or have students research information about Henrietta's family, how they learned of the use of her cells, and what their reactions were when they did. Then, have students select one of the family members and write a journal or a newspaper article featuring this person's viewpoint.

You may also choose to partner students and engage them in mock journalistic interviews to prepare them for writing. This exercise will help them digest the information they've learned and be ready to complete the more extensive assignment. At the summation of the activity, have students share their journals or articles with one another. Consider having them type their products and combine them into a single document for printing or online posting.

  • Materials: information about Henrietta's family and/or access to technology

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