25 Class Activities for the 2016 Summer Olympics
Whether you’re a teacher making daily lesson plans or a parent looking for something enriching to do with your kids during the waning days of summer, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are ripe for educational lessons. Channel the enthusiasm for the games into a host of fun-filled learning activities.
- Olympic Rewind - The first Olympics were held nearly 2,800 years ago, so this is a perfect time to explore life in ancient times. Talk to your students about what those first games were like, then divide them into five groups. Have each research one of the five major ancient Greek city-states that competed — Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Megara and Argos — then report to the class on what made their city-state unique.
- The Not-so-Modern Olympics - The first modern Olympic games were held in 1896 in Athens, but they were a lot different than the Olympics of today. Have half the class find answers to several questions about the 1896 Olympics. For example: What events were held? How many countries participated? How many days did it last? Have the other half research those same questions about the 2016 Olympics. Then compare and contrast.
- Go-for-the-Gold Geography - Plaster a giant world map on the wall. Stick color-coded pins into the various competing countries as they win medals.
- Make it Personal - It’s really the individual tales of triumph and tragedy that make the games so riveting, isn’t it? Pair students with a partner or have each child research a famous Olympian and present their story to the class.
- Make it Political - Especially for older elementary school and middle school students, the Olympics provide an opportunity to study some of the biggest geo-political events in modern history. Research and discuss how the two World Wars and the Cold War impacted the games through the years.
- Where in the World is Rio de Janeiro? Brazil may be the biggest country in the world that your students know the least about. Have students find the answers to interesting questions about Brazil. For example: Why do they speak Portuguese? What’s the story behind that giant statue of Christ? Do they really have blue macaws like in that movie Rio?
- Where in the World is Nauru? Even as an adult, you might see several countries represented in the Olympics that you know little about. Pick several of the most obscure ones — Nauru, Andorra and Tuvalu, for example — and have students research basics facts about each, including location, population and official language.
Schedule a summer/fall field day with an online sign up! SAMPLE.
- The ABCs of the Olympics – Athletes from 42 sports compete at the Summer Olympics. Have the kids practice their ABCs by alphabetizing a scrambled list of them. In the spirit of the Olympics, make it a competition to see who can do it the fastest. Take the challenge up a notch by having them alphabetize a list of all 207 Olympic countries!
- Mythology Lessons - The ancient Olympics were closely intertwined with Greek mythology. Don’t miss this chance to teach some of the most famous Greek myths during story time! There are age-appropriate versions available for all children, from preschool to high school.
- Olympic Scribes - Watch a short Olympic event — a swimming final, for example — then have the kids write their own news story about it. Teach them about the four W’s (who, what, when, where) and one H (how). Read actual Olympic sports accounts by famous writers such as Phil Hersh or John Powers, and talk about how they did or didn’t stick to the inverted-pyramid writing format.
- The Wacky Olympics - Make up your own hilarious Olympic-themed games. For an Olympic ring toss, make five rings by cutting a circle out of the centers of five paper plates, then paint them in the five Olympic colors. Have students toss the rings onto empty paper-towel or wrapping-paper tubes that are standing upright. You could also make Olympic torches out of construction paper cones and tissue paper flames then have a relay race passing the torch.
- The Ancient Olympics - The only game at the first Olympics was the chariot race. Stage your own chariot race by having children pull a teammate who is sitting on a carpet square or exercise mat while holding a rope.
- Modern Games - Many of the sports played in the Olympics today can be adapted to PE time. Use Frisbees instead of a discus or beanbags/balled up pairs of socks instead of a shot put. Watch a race walking competition and then have students imitate the unique gait of the racers. Badminton (yes, it’s an Olympic sport) is great for all but the youngest age groups.
- Sportsmanship Lessons - Talk about some real life examples of good and bad sportsmanship displayed at the Olympics. Let kids talk about times they’ve seen good and bad sportsmanship in action. Continue to refer back to those famous examples during your PE games throughout the year.
Plan an ice cream sundae party using an online sign up! SAMPLE.
- Those Metal Medals - There will be tons of talk about gold, silver and bronze during the Olympics. Research the various properties gold and silver (both elements) and bronze (an alloy).
- The Physics of the Olympics - Why do athletes spin around before throwing the discus? It’s all about momentum! Explore how athletes use the principles of physics to help them throw farther, jump higher, hit harder or run faster.
- Olympic Body Systems - Study how the body’s skeletal, muscular and respiratory systems work together to allow these athletes to perform amazing feats.
- Olympic Illness - Your older students have probably been exposed to news coverage of the Zika virus concerns of those traveling to Rio for the games. Rather than avoiding the scary subject, use it as a way to teach level-headed lessons about mosquito-borne illnesses and how vaccines work.
- Olympic Amazon - More than half the Amazon rainforest’s 2.1 million square miles are in Brazil, so this is a great opportunity to study this complex ecosystem and its importance to the global environment.
- A Marathon of Measuring - The Olympics will give you all sorts of opportunities to teach measurements. Have children perform their own standing long jumps and measure their distance. Compare the distance a marathoner runs to how far sprinters run.
- Graphing the Games - Stats from any sports event are a great way to teach math, and the Olympics is no exception. Make color-coded bar graphs showing the medal counts for each country and adjust them each day.
- Olympics Fantasy League - Just as there are online fantasy leagues for football, baseball and many other sports, there are online fantasy leagues for the Olympics. There are even NCAA tournament-style brackets for the Olympics. Create your own and have students calculate their point totals daily. Just make sure the top prize is something fun and funny — like a giant faux gold medal — and not anything that might give the appearance of gambling.
Organize game day snacks with an online sign up! SAMPLE.
- What in the World is a Vinicius? - This year’s Olympic mascot is named for the famed Brazilian musician Vinicius de Moraes and is an amalgam of various native Brazilian animals. Either individually or as a class, have your students create an Olympic mascot that could possibly be used the next time the U.S. hosts the games.
- National Anthems - Explore the beloved modern Olympic tradition of having the gold medal winner’s national anthem played at each medal ceremony. Listen to some unique anthems (South Africa’s anthem uses five different languages) and learn about the origin and lyrics of the American national anthem.
- Olympic Anthems - Throughout the years, many inspirational songs have been written and performed specifically in honor of the games. “One Moment in Time” (Whitney Houston, 1988) and “Reach,” (Gloria Estefan, 1996), may seem a little hokey to us now, but hearing young children sing them will give even the biggest Olympic cynic chills.
Try a few of these creative ideas, and watch your little learners become smarter and stronger.
Jen Pilla Taylor is a former journalist and mother of two school-age children. She is in her fourth year of teaching their Sunday School classes.