BFI logo











Screenonline banner
KS4 Science: Coughs and Sneezes (1945)

Exploring the spread of disease with two comic public information films

Main image of KS4 Science: Coughs and Sneezes (1945)
Author Ryan Deneven-Lewis, Burlington Danes Academy
TopicMicrobes and Disease - TB
Key WordsMicrobes, disease, TB, contamination, air-borne
Show full lesson spec

Two short public-information films starring comedian and filmmaker Richard Massingham.

Coughs and Sneezes (1945) and Jet-Propelled Germs (1948) are two of filmmaker Richard Massingham's four highly entertaining films (the others being Influenza, 1946, and Handkerchief Drill, 1949) which explore the hazards of uncontrolled sneezing.

In this lesson, pupils are asked to develop a comical sketch that explains how microbes and diseases are spread, in the style of a 1940s public information film.

Lesson Objective

  • To understand that some micro-organisms can cause disease and that micro-organisms enter the body by a range of mechanisms
  • To consider how the government uses film and TV to spread awareness about the spread of diseases and to develop a simple role-play to criteria.


After watching Coughs and Sneezes and Jet-Propelled Germs (Coughs and Sneezes being the longer of the two), ask students to discuss in pairs or small groups, the purpose of the films. Who do they think might have commissioned the film (it was funded by the Ministry of Information) and who do they think the intended audience might have been? You might want to encourage students to make the link between this film and contemporary government adverts about spreading germs on TV.

In this initial discussion students should identify the film as one for public information, with the aim of stopping people from spreading diseases unnecessarily. Ask them to brainstorm the other methods by which diseases can be spread. It may be helpful to identify the range of mechanisms by which micro-organisms enter the body, e.g. food- and water-borne, droplet/air-borne, vectors, blood-borne passage across the placenta and via breastfeeding.


Main Attraction

After capturing the various ways in which diseases can be spread on the board, divide the class into small groups. Each group should then choose a single cause from this list and develop their own 'public-information' sketch in the style of Coughs and Sneezes. Their sketch could, like the Massingham film, use a narration or alternatively use dialogue. The sketch should:

  • Be comic
  • Clearly outline one way in which a disease (or a range of diseases) can be spread
  • Clearly outline the steps people can take to limit the spread of disease.

Before developing their ideas, pupils will need to research the disease/cause they have been given.


End Credits

At the end of the lesson, offer students the opportunity to present their sketches to the rest of the class. You might want to include a panel of judges to choose the most informative and/or the funniest contribution.

If the pupils have the opportunity or the school has the facilities then a selection of these role-plays could be filmed.


External Links

Video Clips
Complete film (00:59)
Complete film (01:22)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Coughs and Sneezes (1945)Coughs and Sneezes (1945)

Read more about this film

Thumbnail image of Jet-Propelled Germs (1948)Jet-Propelled Germs (1948)

Read more about this film

See also

Thumbnail image of Central Office of Information (1946-2012)Central Office of Information (1946-2012)

Film Unit, Sponsor