Winter Olympics in the Classroom - A Brief History January 28 2010

This year marks the 21st Winter Olympic Games. They will be held February 12th through the 28th in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Athletes from all over the world have been training tirelessly for a chance to compete, and excitement builds as the Olympic torch makes its way closer to the finish line at the Opening Ceremonies!

Because the Olympic games capture our national attention (and NBC regular programming) for two weeks, I like to take advantage of the excitement to host my own Classroom Winter Olympics! This particular lesson plan focuses on the history of the ancient and modern Olympic Games, giving students a chance to compare and contrast what they learn.

Before You Begin

I always like to find out what my kids know and have questions about a given subject, and one of the best ways is the K-W-L chart. In the K column, make a list of what kids "Know" about the Olympic games. In the second column, list questions from kids regarding what they "Want to Know" about the Olympics. When the lessons about the Olympics are finished, go back to this chart and have kids fill in the L column with what they learned - some of these hopefully answer the questions brought up in the "W" column.

No matter what age you teach, it's a good idea to go over Olympic vocabulary. Some of these words could include ancient, modern, centuries, stadium, athletes, medals, prize, discus, shotput, javelin, relay, estimate and measure. To help kids process this vocabulary, consider using this Predict, Define, and Sketch chart to first guess what each term means, then look the words up in a dictionary for their "official" definitions.

Read All About It

Included in this reading lesson is the Ancient and Modern Olympic History page. It's fairly simple and straightforward, giving students several facts about the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games. I like to have kids read something like this two or three times. The first time is usually a quick run-through, and we read it as a whole group or in partners, coming together to talk about important key words or facts.

The second read-through is specifically to process information more carefully, and again as a whole group or in partners. After this second reading, I like to introduce something like this Ancient and Modern Olympics Comprehension Questions sheet for comprehension practice.

Write All About It

Over the years, I've found that Venn Diagrams certainly have their advantages, especially when dealing with nonfiction reading material. This Olympics Venn Diagram gives students the opportunity to compare and contrast the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games.

With the information organized in the Venn Diagram, there's a variety of writing activities to extend this reading lesson plan into a writing lesson plan. Take the similarities or the differences only and teach them how to write a paragraph with an opening and closing sentence. Ask for volunteers to write a fact each on a sentence strip, then put together a paragraph using a pocket chart, review sequencing and then have your kids write an opening and closing sentence to fit with the facts.

If you have older kids, this is an excellent time to talk about how to write a good compare/contrast essay - an opening paragraph, a paragraph about similarities, a paragraph about differences, and a closing. These expository pieces are difficult for kids to write well, and the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games would be a great essay to model. After writing the paragraphs with your students' help, have them compare and contrast something of their choice to practice.

The winter Olympic Games offer a wonderful opportunity to bring timely subject matter into the classroom. Take advantage of the excitement of the Winter Olympics, and use these reading and writing activities as the first step to hosting your own Classroom Olympic Games.