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Olympics-Themed Classroom Activities

Jordan Catapano

Students young and old are thrilled by the dynamic athleticism and worldwide spirit of the Olympics. It’s an international event that’s difficult to ignore, and could provide a prime opportunity for enhancing learning in creative ways. Here are some classroom activities that may work as your school year begins.

Learn About Rio de Janeiro

One of the best things about the Olympics is that it puts a giant spotlight on distant lands and peoples. Use the Rio Olympics to introduce your students to Rio de Janeiro and the unique culture of Brazil. Have students identify the sights and attractions of the city, the culture of the people, the language, the history, and the country’s similarities and differences from their own.

In addition to doing original research, students will learn a great deal about the city just from watching the Olympics. Have students watch portions of the games and listen for information about the city. Then discuss in class the next day what students discover.

Don’t forget to take advantage of digital tools such as Google Earth or this virtual tour tool to explore the city. They could even try the new Google Expeditions VR app to explore Rio de Janeiro.

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If you’re looking to spice up your classroom activities, you can have students research different aspects of the culture and bring in a small decoration, food item, clothing apparel, or music that relates to what they learned about Brazil!

Form Your Own Olympic Games

Want to use the Olympics to gamify your class? Turn your routine academic activities into a points-based race for the gold. All you have to do is assign point values to various tasks around your classroom – completing homework, earning certain scores, coming prepared to class – and rewarding students for these tasks with Olympics points. The best part is that you don’t have to limit who gets medals to three people. Instead, let everyone who earns a minimum number of points receive a bronze, silver, or gold!

You don’t have to limit this to academic activities either. Offer Olympic points for acting courteously, for being persistent, for sharing, for encouraging others, for listening well, or for other behaviors you’d like to reinforce.

You can even connect this directly to the Olympics by asking students to select a country they’d like to represent. Then they can compare their own performance to the performance of the country they selected and learn more about another nation.

Follow A Country

The 2016 Olympics will have more nations participating than ever before. Ask students to select a country they’re not very familiar with and spend focused attention on how that country performs during the Olympics. Here are some questions you can ask your students to investigate:

  • How did my country do at the Olympics?
  • How many athletes did my country send?
  • Does my country specialize in any sports?
  • How do my country’s athletes prepare for the Olympics?
  • Who are my country’s stars and favored athletes?
  • How did my country honor and celebrate the athletes competing in the Olympics?

And have students write questions of their own!

Once students find answers to their questions, they can share their knowledge with a short presentation or video. Encourage them to be creative and show what they’ve learned.

Journalistic Writing

The Olympics is not just one event – it’s a huge kaleidoscope of stories. Challenge your students to become a journalist for a day and to compose an article about an Olympic event they witness.

Use sportswriting from your local newspapers as models, and ask students to compose a similar headline and story that takes a unique angle on an Olympic event. Teach students how to write intriguing lead statements including dynamic storytelling about the most important elements of the event they witness. Encourage students to watch their favorite event, or to view one that they rarely take the time to see. Combine students’ stories into a classroom newspaper or eBook!

Inspiring Personal Goals

Ask students to select any athlete competing in the Olympic games and learn their story. Olympic athletes aren’t made overnight, but rather endure a lifetime of training and perseverance to reach their level of skill. How did the athlete get to where they are?

After students read the stories of Olympic athletes, ask them to consider the goals and the steps athletes took to achieve those goals. Have a conversation about achieving one’s dreams and the work it takes to get there. Then ask students to write their own “Olympic-sized goal” for their life, and the steps and perseverance they think it will take to accomplish it.

Create Your Own Brain Break Olympic Competitions

Students don’t have to be world-class athletes to play in the Olympics. Take brain breaks and get your students moving with your own original classroom competitive games. Try a paperclip toss, a snowball fight (with crumbled papers), a tower-building challenge, or a jumping-jack competition. Get creative with what you have around your room and get the blood flowing! Here are some fun ideas from EducationWorld.

Write a Poem About What They See

Athletics is as much art as it is science, and it can be fun to appreciate the beauty of athletic competition too. Ask students to compose a short poem that describes an event they witness. Here are a few poetry prompts you might try:

  • Focus on one tiny detail (an athlete’s jump, an archer’s bowstring, the tear on the champion’s cheek) and describe it through a poem.
  • Compose an ode to an athlete, an event, or a country.
  • Use poetry to tell the story of one event that takes place during the Olympics.
  • What’s something you see that makes you mad, inspired, or surprised?

History of the Olympics

Students might have an inkling of an idea that the Olympics has something to do with ancient Greece, but do they really know the story of how the Olympics came to be? Ask students to spend time looking at the history of the Olympics, exploring how it originated, what events have been part of the competition over time, when the Olympics have or haven’t been held, the torch, the IOC, the winter and summer games, and any other aspects that interest them.

Ask students to generate their own list of questions, and even continue adding to that list even after they’ve found answers to previous questions. Students can show what they know with a brief presentation, a class timeline, a student news report, or a collaborative eBook!

The Olympics are a thrilling, international experience that offers much opportunity for enhancing the way we start our school year. Consider some of these ideas to transform student excitement about the Olympics into an excitement about learning!

What would you add to this list? How do you like to take advantage of the Olympics in your classroom? Tell our community about your ideas!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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