Let the Olympic Games Begin!

Identify your class' favorite Olympic sporting events and engage in a series of interesting and meaningful activities.

By Cathy Neushul


Gold medals

The countdown to the Olympic Games is at an end. This weekend, the world will start watching the best athletes from every nation compete in a variety of events including swimming, water polo, soccer, and diving. While there are those who don’t consider the Olympics must-see television, I’m not one of these people. I find myself glued to the television, watching events I didn’t even know existed. In our household, water polo and swimming are the most captivating competitions.

For most of your students, there will be a sport that they take particular interest in. Use these interests as a way to delve into curriculum involving math, history, social studies, reading; the possibilities are endless.

Kick-Off the Games

You can kick-off activities related to the Olympics with a general overview of the event. The Birth of the Ancient Games is one of a variety of resources you can use to discuss the origins of this Ancient Greek competition. It provides a concise overview of the history of the games. Another way to discuss the history of this event is by having your class visit the official website for the2012 London Olympics. You can show them information about each of the sports, read stories about the Olympic flame’s journey to London (including a ride on the London Underground), and track the number of medals, the stats, and a variety of other information.

Pick A Sport

Now here comes the fun part. Have your class pick their favorite sport and complete a list of activities relating to it. For example, if my sport of choice is water polo, I could research the history of the sport, read about the current members of specific Olympic teams, and follow the win/losses and stats for each game. 

Water polo has a fascinating history, part of which can be found on the official Olympic website under water polo. In the beginning, players sat on floating barrels and swung at a unfilled bladder with mallet-like sticks. There were no rules. It was a violent and anything-goes sport. Eventually, rules were set in place and the sport made its debut in the Paris Olympic Games in 1900. Women’s water polo, however, wasn’t introduced into the Olympic Games until 2000 in Sydney, Australia. This could be food for thought for your class. They might be surprised that it took 100 years for women's water polo to become an Olympic sport. Ask them to think of reasons why it took so long.

Do A Report

As part of a report on a particular Olympic sport, learners can:

  • Research a particular sport and produce a report about its history
  • Produce a PowerPoint featuring a famous Olympic athlete
  • Create a report on a particular Olympic-related issue or event, such as the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics

In the end, the project should have guidelines, but should also allow individuals to be creative. A video, audio recording, PowerPoint, or other creative project could be the result.

Get to Know the Athletes

Nothing will inspire your students more than learning about the individual athletes. They are fascinating, dedicated people who have sometimes had difficult lives. What makes Michael Phelps tick? Don’t we all want to know? I was fortunate in that I was able to watch the women’s Olympic water polo team play an exhibition game against Hungary. I had a chance to meet team captain Brenda Villa and took a picture with Kami Craig. Even if your class can't meet the athletes in person, they can get to know them by looking up information on the Internet about their backgrounds, listening to audio or video recordings of events, and by watching them compete. This can make a project about a particular sport come alive.

Look at the Stats

Don't forget, it’s all about the numbers. The Olympics provide an opportunity to see math computations in action. There are stats for every sport which can be used as a basis for classroom activities. For example, you could have your class calculate the scores for each of the participants in the diving part of the competition. They could determine averages, make predictions, and more. It’s a way to show your class how math is used in real life situations.

Any way you decide to do it, the Olympics can provide a learning opportunity that can be meaningful and interesting.  

The Olympics:

Olympic Continent

The Olympic Games is about more than sports. Delve into how the performance of Olympic athletes affect their countries. One of the main focuses is the contributions Ethiopian long distance runners have made toward inspiring national pride.

The Birth of the Ancient Games

While this resource provides a simple review of the background of the Olympic Games, it could be a quick and easy way to kick off activities. It also has a list of comprehension questions.

Origin of the Modern Olympic Games

Oh, how the Olympic Games have changed over the years. This resource engages learners in a compare and contrast activity in which they compare the modern Olympics to those held in Ancient Greece. This is an interesting way to approach this topic that encourages critical thinking and research skills.

Who’s Up for the Olympic Challenge

Combine a few objectives into one lesson. Pupils use the five themes of geography to design an imaginary bid for a country to hold the Olympic Games. The final PowerPoint projects are expected to reflect an understanding of geography, economics, and business.