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WebMD: Understanding Back Pain


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Activity Description

WebMD has an extensive library of information on diseases and diagnoses. It is written at a 6th to 10th grade level. An individual or group project to research a particular disease can lead to learning new medical vocabulary that will be helpful when talking to the doctor.


  1. Review the WebMD site and decide what topic(s) to focus your lesson on. This example will focus on back pain, but there are many possibilities on this site.
  2. You may want to prepare a vocabulary list in advance, like the one shown above as an Example Document, or you can have the students create the list.
  3. In order to assess the final oral or written presentation, you will need a rubric. Here is one rubric ideas or Google rubrics for writing, presentations, oral reports to find one that will work best for your class. Note you will need to create an account to create the rubric.


  1. Project the main site (see Web Site link below) in order to introduce it to the students.
  2. First, demonstrate how to identify an ad. Some say (in very fine print) Advertisement. On the bottom of the home page there is also a list of topics "from our sponsors." Explain that sponsors are also advertisers.
  3. Demonstrate choosing a topic from the menu on the left. Choose Back Pain.
  4. Review the topics under Back Pain Guide (left menu)
  5. Choose Symptoms and Types.
  6. Choose Upper, Middle and Low Back Pain Symptoms.
  7. Have students read the article and write down the words they do not know.
  8. As a group, compile a list of new words.
  9. Assign someone to look up each word and report back. (Vocabulary may include chronic, strenuous, localized, strains, etc.)
  10. Ask comprehension questions to ensure that students understand the article.
  11. Assign groups of two or three to either read about another aspect of back pain, or research another topic (be specific as to which information to gather).
  12. Group reports can be either oral or written.
  13. Share rubric with students, and have them evaluate each other's work.

Teacher Tips

This site has many ads, so before turning students loose to do research, be sure to show some of the ads and explain not to click on those.

More Ways

  • There are many current news articles on this site as well as information on specific diseases and symptoms. Choose a current article to have students read, discuss, and write about.
  • Students may also search for information on any illness or health issue, such as arthritis, cancer, heart disease, COPD, etc.

Program Areas

  • ESL: English as a Second Language


  • Intermediate High
  • Advanced



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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.