With the launch of the teaching excellence framework, teaching in higher education (HE) is under greater scrutiny than ever before. Didactic lecture delivery is still a core element of many HE programmes but there is now a greater expectation for academics to incorporate alternative approaches into their practice to increase student engagement. These approaches may include a large array of techniques from group activities, problem-based learning, practical experience and mock scenarios to newly emerging approaches such as flipped learning practices and the use of gamification. These participatory forms of learning encourage students to become more absorbed within a topic that may otherwise be seen as rather ‘dry' and reduce students engagement with, and therefore retention of, material. Here we use participatory-based teaching approaches in microbiology as an example to illustrate to University undergraduate students the potentially devastating effects that a disease can have on a population. The ‘threat' that diseases may pose and the manner in which they may spread and/or evolve can be challenging to communicate, especially in relation to the timescales associated with these factors in the case of an epidemic or pandemic.