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K-State Book Network (KSBN)

Ways to use the common book in the classroom

Wondering how you can incorporate the The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks into your work with students this fall? Below are ideas developed by K-State faculty. 

Want to use the book but can’t devote a lot of time?

  • Use the book as an example when discussing the philosophies, theories, or perspectives from your discipline.
  • Ask your student to attend the events planned by KSBN. 


  • Develop the musical score for the film.
  • Design a movie poster for the film.
  • Use multimedia to create a PSA over a theme or issue from the book. 
  • Consider how pictures and images are used in the book – not necessarily the pictures actually re-printed in the book, but the pictures referenced throughout the novel. For example, Deborah is really moved by the picture she discovers of her sister, Elsie. What is so powerful about that image? Why are images so important? How do images work rhetorically in the novel?


  • Develop a factsheet or pamphlet on issue from the book (patient rights, STI facts, etc) and write it for a low literacy user.  


  • Have students find a science article inspired by a topic in the book and identify the parts of a research paper.
  • Have students research how and why race and ethnicity influences the type and quality of medical assistance a person receives. 
  • Create medical or family health tree (ex Surgeon General family health portrait)
  • Imagine if Henrietta had been better informed and did not allow doctors to take her tissues. Redesign an experiment or discovery (polio vaccine, cancer research, etc) without the use of HeLa.

Social Sciences

  • Use the book as a way to talk about gender, race, and class in general. Have students analyze Henrietta’s story in terms of a particular concept or idea. 


  • Write a review of the book or event related to the book.  
  • Have students “write about writing” in the book. For example, no scientists, doctors, or journalists ever write to the family; they merely write about them. How does this affect the Lacks’ family throughout the course of the narrative? What would a letter to the Lacks’ family have looked like, if such a letter had been written? 
  • Consider the book as an example of someone being taken advantage of because of their culture or background. After discussing what happened to Henrietta, have students freewrite about a time when they may have experienced a hardship related to their own culture or community membership.  You could use this to lead into a variety of discussions related to identity and/or justice.