Standards Correlations

R.1, R.3, R.4, R.6, R.7, R.9, W.2, W.3, SL.1, L.4, L.6

Learning Objective

Students will synthesize information from two texts about personal hygiene.

Key Skills

synthesizing, text features, vocabulary, author’s craft, cause and effect, problem and solution, compare and contrast, making connections, informational writing

Complexity Factors

Purpose: The first text describes the evolution of soap; the second tells how hand sanitizer became popular.

Structure: The first text jumps around in time. Both texts contain cause-effect and problem-solution structures.  

Language: The language is mainly clear and direct.

Knowledge Demands: The texts refer to ancient Greeks, Romans, and Covid-19.


Lexile: 600L-700L 

Guided Reading Level:

DRA Level: 40

Lesson Plan: The Dirty History of Soap/Lending a Clean Hand

Essential Questions

  • How does the culture we live in affect our personal habits?
  • How does science contribute to our well-being?

Literature Connection

  • Novel: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Nonfiction: The Germ Lab by Richard Platt

1. Preparing to Read 

Build Background Knowledge (5 minutes)

Ask students how they keep their hands clean. What products do they use? How often do they use these products? Discuss why they clean their hands. Then ask, “Do you think people in the past washed up the same way you do? If not, what do you think might have been different?”

Preview Text Features (15 minutes)

Guide students to locate the articles. Then preview the text features by asking the following questions:

  • According to the subtitle, how was being dirty seen differently than it is today? It wasn’t a bad thing, according to the subtitle. Today, having filthy hands and smelly armpits would be considered gross.
  • Read the second article’s title and subtitle. What does “lending a hand” mean? Why does the author use this phrase in the title? Lending a hand means offering help. Based on the images and the subtitle, this article will be about someone who helped others by giving out hand sanitizer, so it’s clever to say “lending a clean hand.”

Preview Vocabulary (10 minutes)

  • Point out the vocabulary box. Read the terms (accounts, ambassador, Indigenous peoples, cleansers, vaccine) aloud and discuss their definitions.
  • Play the Vocabulary Slideshow.

Make a Plan for Reading

Before students start to read, walk them through a reading plan: 

  • Set a purpose for reading by telling students that the articles provide information about how soap came to be used widely and how hand sanitizers helped us fight germs during a pandemic.
  • Tell students that after they read, they’ll complete a synthesizing activity by combining information from the texts.

2. Reading and Unpacking the Text

Guide students to read the articles. Once they understand them well, discuss the following close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)

  • In the introduction to the first article, you learn that King Louis XIV smelled bad and rarely bathed. Why do you think the author includes this information in the beginning of the text? (author’s craft) The author probably includes this information in the beginning of the article to grab the reader’s attention. The difference between personal hygiene habits in the past and those of today is shocking.
  • Reread the section “Smelly = Safe.” In the past, why did many people in Europe avoid bathing? (cause and effect) There were two reasons people avoided bathing. First, it was too expensive for most people. Only the wealthy could afford soap. Second, they believed bathing was unhealthy. They thought dirt on the skin blocked diseases from getting into the body.
  • Reread the section “Invisible Enemies.” What did scientists discover in the late 1800s that changed how people thought about disease and cleanliness? (cause and effect) Scientists discovered that tiny, invisible germs cause illness, but washing can get rid of germs and keep people healthy. When people understood this, washing up became a part of daily life.
  • The article “Lending a Clean Hand” explains how Jayden Perez saw a problem and helped solve it. What was the problem, and how did he help solve it? (problem and solution) Jayden realized that many people couldn’t find hand sanitizer to protect themselves from Covid-19. He managed to get 1,500 spray bottles of it and donated them.
  • What is the difference between hand sanitizer and soap? What is useful about each product? (compare and contrast) Both products kill germs so they can’t make you sick, but soap also removes them from your hands when you rinse them. Soap is more effective, but hand sanitizer is useful when you’re not able to get to a sink to wash with soap and water.

Critical-Thinking Questions (10 minutes)

  • Since soap was first invented about 5,000 years ago, how has the way people keep clean changed? Use information from both articles in your answer. (synthesizing) Even though soap was invented about 5,000 years ago, people didn’t often use it on their bodies because it was harsh and smelly. Instead, they cleaned themselves with products like rice water, crushed-up plants, or oil and sand. But many didn’t wash at all because they believed it was unhealthy. By the late 1800s, people realized that washing with soap and water could help keep them healthy. Today, we wash with soap and water to stay clean and healthy or use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
  • How did Jayden Perez’s donation of hand sanitizer support people in his community, aside from helping them keep clean? What can we learn from his actions? (making connections) Jayden showed people in his community that he cared about them and that they weren’t facing a big problem alone. We can learn that by being thoughtful and generous, like Jayden, one person can help a community. Also, he set an example by pulling together with his community to help people feel better in a crisis.

3. Skill Building and Writing

  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to complete the Synthesizing Skill Builder.  (Click here to view all of your Skill Builders.)
  • Writing Prompt: Imagine that you could travel back in time to the 1600s, bringing modern soap and hand sanitizer with you. What would you tell dirty King Louis XIV about washing up? Write a short speech (one or two paragraphs) explaining how people’s ideas about keeping ourselves clean have changed over time. Use details from the two articles, but also use  your imagination to add details about your time-traveling visit to France. Have fun!

Learn Anywhere Activity

An enrichment activity to extend the learning journey at home or in the classroom

Soap vs. Sanitizer

Dive deeper into the differences between soap and hand sanitizer by watching this video from TED- Ed. How does each one work? Why does one work better than the other for fighting coronaviruses? In this activity, you’ll share your findings with a family member by explaining to them what you learn.

  • Watch the video once to understand the general ideas.
  • Watch a second time and take notes. Write down three or four facts that answer the questions above.
  • Check your understanding by telling a family member about how soap and hand sanitizer work. If they ask a follow-up question that you don’t know the answer to, try to find the answer, either by rewatching the video or by searching online.

ELL Springboard

Have students write summary questions for self-assessment.

Before reading, point out that unlike some of the other articles in Action, the Paired Texts don’t have accompanying Pause-and-Think questions, or questions that can be answered by reading the texts. Let students know that they’re going to come up with these questions after reading. Encourage them to try to think of suitable questions as they read.

After reading, divide students into pairs. Have one student in each pair write a question about the section “Itchy Goop” and a question about the section “Invisible Enemies” (from “The Dirty History of Soap”). Have the other student write a question about the intro (the first four paragraphs) and one about the section “How It Works” (from “Lending a Clean Hand”). Then have the students in each pair try to answer each other’s questions. 

Possible questions:

  • For “Invisible Enemies”: Why did soap become more popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s? (Soap became more popular because people learned that washing away germs could help prevent disease.)
  • For the intro of “Lending a Clean Hand”: Why did Jayden Perez give away hand sanitizer? (Jayden gave away hand sanitizer because people in his community needed it, and it was hard to find.)
  • For “How It Works”: What ingredient in hand sanitizer kills germs? (The alcohol in hand sanitizer kills germs.)

Looking for more ELL support? Download our full lesson plan and scroll to p. 5 to find questions that will help your ELLs respond to the text at the level that’s right for them.

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