You can use the Olympic Games as inspiration for a number of activities across the primary curriculum, focusing on subjects such as sport, drama, literacy and design. Primary Know-How from PE & Sport Today offers loads of Olympic lesson plans and activities to get you started

This information pack offers lesson ideas for the primary curriculum that use the Olympics as inspiration. It includes:

Activities to introduce the Olympics

In August 2008, the Olympic Games came to China for the first time.

First conceived to honour Zeus, King of the Gods, in the ancient village of Olympia, it has always been much more than the very greatest of sporting spectacles. For more than a hundred years, the Olympic Games has touched the lives of millions of people all around the world.

The Games, their history and legacy, not to mention the ideals and philosophy surrounding them, make an ideal focus in many areas of the curriculum. Just as the ancient Greeks promoted a ‘marriage of mind and muscle’ in order to honour the Gods, studying the Olympics can help develop pupils both physically and cognitively.

If PE is a central focus, elements of design and technology, ICT, literacy, numeracy, PHSE and history can also be included.

Two years after the formation of the International Olympic committee in 1894, the first modern games was held in Athens. In an era when tensions between the great powers of Europe were escalating after many years of relative harmony, the French Baron, Pierre de Coubertin, envisaged an international sporting event to bring nations and their people closer together. In 1924, the first winter games took place in Chamonix, France. These underlying principles of friendship, solidarity and fair play – still applicable to the modern day Olympic participant – are also ideal cross-curricular themes.

As a massive sporting, social and cultural festival, the Games always leaves a strong legacy for its host city. Similarly, a study of the Olympics can have a lasting impact on school life, as through in school experiences children’s interest in sport may be heightened or even initiated.

Activity 1
The Olympics can add contemporary relevance to children’s educational experiences. Extensive coverage of the event in the media provides schools and pupils with a mass of learning opportunities and materials, allowing children to link their in-school experiences with what is going on in the outside world. Ask children to collect evidence from a variety of sources and make a class scrapbook of ‘A week at the Olympics’. While younger or less able children can record the main events and notice the different ways in which information is communicated to the public, older pupils can summarise what happened and look at the similarities and differences between the reporting of the various media types. The more able can distinguish between factual and opinion-based commentaries and start to consider how reports from another country might look.

Activity 2
Make a link with a school from a village, town or city in another country – perhaps the place your town is already twinned with. Think of ways of communicating and forming friendships with the children in that class. Younger children might draw pictures of themselves and speak a bit about home or school life, whereas more detail about themselves, their experiences, their community and their country, could be given by older pupils. The more able might try and think of ways of combating any language barriers which might exist in order to communicate effectively or exchange contemporary news about Olympic events.

Activity 3 
Look at pictures of ancient and contemporary Olympic Games. Consider what the atmosphere at both must have been like for the participants, their friends and families and the watching audiences. While younger children can note similarities and differences between the two, older pupils can put themselves in the position of a researcher for a newspaper, noting important facts before drawing up a report for their editor. More able children can comment on the reliability of the photos and drawings while producing their reports and consider what additional information they might need to gain a more accurate picture of events.

Activity 4
Make a timeline of past Olympics – both summer and winter. Information can be found by clicking on ‘Olympic Games’ on Use an atlas to find the location of host cities and the countries they are in – plotting them on a blank map of the world. From this discover which cities and countries have been the most frequent hosts and if any continents have yet to host the games.

Designing a class Olympics

Why not give children the opportunity to design, run and take part in their own Olympic event. This could either take place in one day or over a number of PE lessons or lunch times.

Adhering closely to the Olympic ideal ‘Peace, Friendship and Progress’ and the Olympic concept ‘Faster, Higher and Stronger’ would make a school Olympics well suited for children of all abilities.
Devise teams to give children the opportunity to take part in several events against others of their own age and ability. Throughout the competition they can also score points for their design skills, creativity, organisational skills and their ability to officiate and lead.

Each team represents a country participating in the Olympics. Ask them to design a snazzy name related in some way to the culture of the country. This will require a bit of research. They will then need to design a logo and a short movement sequence that represents both the Olympic ideal and concept in the style of their chosen country. This will then form part of the opening ceremony and can be judged according to relevance, creativity and quality of movement.

Next each country has to design its own Olympic event. This can either be a team or individual event but must allow points to be scored for:

  • Recording the fastest time, the best distance or scoring the most points.
  • Making progress.
  • Taking part fairly.

Make children aware of the limitations of time, equipment and space and encourage them to make their game extremely simple because they will have to demonstrate it to the other teams who will need to understand how to play it.

They will score points for designing a game that:

  • is original – a game of football or a running race will score low
  • allows participants to score in the above three ways
  • is easy to understand
  • is relevant to the Olympic ideal or concept.

Keep rules of events simple as there may need to be a rapid turn over of activities and if children are concerned with complexities of play they will have less time to think about how to perform to the best of their ability.

The event can also be used to generate ideas for classroom activity, which in turn should increase enthusiasm for the event and, of course, the Olympic Games themselves. What is more, involving children in both the planning and organisational stage of the event would allow them to take ownership of the event.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Use ICT to research Olympic sports, the history of the games and its symbolism. From this, information sheets for spectators about a ‘country’, its past Olympic history, famous Olympians or alternatively one of the Olympic sports can be produced.
  • Interview the headteacher and coordinating teacher about the event and add this to a programme or newsletter to relay news about the event to parents, the local community and other schools.
  • Make Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals for winners in their class.
  • Design banners and other promotional material to advertise the event and support their team.
  • Lists of participants, events and rules could be drawn up to help both spectators and participants understand what is going on.
  • Collect statistics from the event itself which could be later used for data handling activities in the classroom.
  • Organise class competitions for the best report – winners could go on a class Olympic notice board. The overall winner could be invited to draft a report to the local newspaper.
  • There are a number of non-athletic roles that could be fulfilled by children, enabling them to make a different sort of contribution to the success of the event and perhaps lead to future involvement in sport in a non-playing capacity. Managers to organise teams, stewards to organise spectators, equipment and set out courses, timekeepers, scorers and reporters will all be needed on the day.

Just as with the actual games themselves, taking advantage of the legacy of the school Olympics is vital. Enthusiasm generated in school could provide a springboard from which many children become involved in a variety of sports outside of school. The knock-on benefits this can have in terms of individual health, self-fulfilment, along with community cohesion, are immense.

So invite your school sport coordinator, or maybe even a local sporting celebrity, to speak at the event. Invite local dignitaries to award medals. In this way, local press are more likely to come down and the radio station might even be persuaded to help out hosting the day.

Tap up your school sports partnership for equipment and ask if any of their sports leaders are available to help organise the event on the day.

Opening ceremony creative lesson

Symbolism has always been a major part of the Olympic Games, with high-profile opening and closing ceremonies providing a combination of messages from the host nation and Olympic ideology.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than at the 2000 games in Sydney. Selecting Aboriginal 400m runner Cathy Freeman to light the Olympic flame was a powerful symbol of reconciliation between white Australians and their Aboriginal countrymen. Traditionally relayed from venue to venue between games, the Olympic flame symbolises the endeavour for perfection, the struggle for victory, peace and friendship. In choosing Freeman for the highest Olympic honour possible, Australia no longer – organisers were saying – treats its indigenous peoples badly.

It is for this reason that the Olympic flame’s journey across the world to Beijing in 2008 was beset by incident and protest. Many feel that China’s alleged human rights abuses – particularly in Tibet – make a mockery of the Olympic ideal and that the games themselves should have been boycotted.
Some questions for pupils to consider:

  • What message should be given out in the opening speech of the school Olympics and who should make it?
  • Who should be chosen to light the school’s very own Olympic flame?
  • How would competitors initially enter the arena?

Design a movement or drama sequence to represent protest and injustice

Alongside the opening VIP addresses, the raising of the Olympic flag and the swearing of the Olympic oath, a host of cultural entertainment is provided by the host nation. At Sydney 2000, spectators and athletes alike saw a series of dramatical dance routines recounting Australian history.

Use the internet to research the following, all of which were featured in the festivities:

  • Aboriginal life prior to white settlement.
  • Ned Kelly and criminal transportation to Australia from Britain.
  • The building of the Sydney harbour bridge.
  • What aspects of school/community life would be included as part of the opening ceremony of the school Olympic event?
  • Design a set of dance and drama routines that would portray these aspects.
  • How could Olympic ideals of friendship, solidarity, fair play and mutual understanding be included in the routines?
  • Look at the opening ceremony at Beijing 2008. What aspects of Chinese culture and history have been included?
  • Design the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics.

Mini-Olympics – class sports tournament

The Olympic message tells us that the struggle, not the triumph, is the most important aspect of life. Not necessarily to have conquered, but to have fought well should be our aim.

In order to give of their best while doing physical activity, children will need to develop, apply, evaluate and refine their skills and tactical awareness. As with Olympic athletes, they will need to learn how to train alone, cooperate in small groups and contribute as part of a team. Such a process is relevant across all parts of the PE curriculum.

Give children in groups of four each of the following tasks and ask them to devise training strategies – outlining exactly what they need to do to maximise their performance in Olympic style mini-class tournaments. In line with Olympic ideals, teams and individuals will be valued not just for winning but through improving their own performance.

Each team can represent a country participating in the Olympics scoring: Five points for a win, three for a draw and one for a loss. Two bonus points for a team which improves their score from their previous match.

Pincer movement
Just as armies, ever since ancient times, have attacked their opponents simultaneously from opposite sides of the battlefield, so the aim of this invasion game is to introduce the concepts of utilising space when attacking and denying space when defending. The focus here is on water polo – an Olympic sport – but it can be adapted for use with any style of invasion game.

  • Teams of six, with one player playing only in the wing zones on either side of the pitch .
  • Three points for scoring a goal from within the scoring zone.
  • One point for passing the ball to your player in the wing zone.
  • Five points if a goal is scored after receiving a pass directly from a player in a wing zone.

When devising their strategies, children will need to consider sending, receiving and intercepting techniques, how to move into space when attacking and how to close down space when defending. Roles within the team will need to be worked out in order that each player is able to develop an awareness of how to perform in each.

Tag ‘em
Cooperation and teamwork are the essential elements of this softball (another Olympic sport) style striking and fielding game.

  • In teams of eight, team with highest score wins. Both teams bat for four minutes.
  • Individual strikers have one hit and whatever the outcome must try to get to the end safe zone before they are tagged by a fielder.
  • When they get there strikers score a point for their team.
  • If they can then wait their chance to return to the striking zone without getting tagged, strikers score an additional point.
  • Strikers then join the back of their line and wait for another go.
  • A striker may not go back to the end zone once they have stepped outside it.
  • A fielder must have the ball in their hand when tagging an opponent but may not throw it at them.
  • A striker may be tagged at any time they are on the field of play but not while they are waiting to strike or in the end zone.
  • Each tag gains the fielding team five points.
  • An innings can last the whole four minutes or until all the strikers have been tagged or are in the end zone at once.
  • Once a striker has been tagged they must stand to the side; they are also ‘out’ if they leave the playing area when attempting to avoid being tagged or if they are caught by a fielder.
  • Striking team throw for each other.

When devising their strategy, teams will need to consider the various throwing, catching and striking techniques needed. Timing and positioning will be crucial when devising ways of relaying the ball around the playing area to tag strikers and when thinking how best to return to the end zone to score points for the striking team.

Faster, higher, stronger
In this athletics-style competition, teams of three compete against each other while attempting to improve their own individual performance.

There is an individual leader board for each discipline but placings also score points for their teams. Two bonus points can be scored every time there is an improvement in performance. The winning individual is the person with the highest overall score and the winning team with the highest combined total.

Each individual must perform a:

  • 60m shuttle run
  • small football throw
  • standing jump.

When devising strategy, each group must consider how to perform the various running, throwing and jumping skills. Tactically, they need to think about rest periods in between activities, how to gain an advantage through turning during the shuttle run, which type of throw maximises distance and how to observe a team-mate’s technique while performing to help them improve their performance and increase the team score.

Olympic media coverage and report writing

While noticing the similarities in style and content between a variety of written and visual reports, pupils will also learn to organise facts and their own opinions in a coherent manner. They will be helped to inform and explain, focusing on subject matter and how to convey it to the reader in sufficient detail, review and comment on what has been read or heard and organise the content and sequence of their writing.

Lower age juniors can concentrate on expressing their opinions clearly and organising known facts. Half the class watch some video footage of an Olympic event – perhaps a 100m sprint and give comments on what they have seen. List the comments on the board and ask the group to distinguish between fact and opinion, while also ordering each piece of information in terms of perceived importance.

The other half of the class then see if they can work out what has been reported on by looking only at these comments. What further information do they need to create a clear picture? Can the first group give them this?

Watch the footage again and ask for additional comments. Think of opening sentences which would immediately capture a reader’s attention. Take some introductory sentences from newspaper stories. What sort of length might these sentences best be? What information do they include? Produce a newspaper report on the Olympic event they have just watched.

The following questions will inform the planning and writing of their reports:

  • What is the purpose of the report?
  • Do I have all the information I need?
  • If not, where can I find it?
  • What facts do I need to include?
  • How do I decide what to include and what to leave out of the report?
  • Are opinions clear and based on facts?
  • How will I organise the report – chronologically or analytically? (For example, from most important point downwards.)
  • How will I start and conclude the report?

Olympic logo design

It seems that children at Turnfurlong Junior School are none too impressed with the London 2012 Olympic logo. ‘It’s boring and looks like someone has cut it out of a piece of paper,’ says 11-year-old Emily. ‘It tells you the Olympics are in London but that’s about it, the orange shapes make no sense at all,’ her classmate Zarina adds. ‘Apart from the rings, what’s it got to do with the Olympics?’ asks a bemused Shardar.

The Year 6s decide that the design will just not do and that they need their own logos for the mini-Olympic competition they are taking part in during the afternoon. It’s an example of how sport can act as a vehicle to develop cross-curricular learning – the focus in this instance being design and technology.

Working in groups of three, the children use ICT-based sources of information to generate ideas for their product, after thinking carefully about what it will be used for. After supplementing their existing knowledge about the Olympics by doing some online research, the Year 6s look at how in their own design could reflect four interrelated aspects of their day – the Olympic ideal, sport, the location of their event – Turnfurlong Junior School – and, of course, their country.

On one design, two hockey sticks – each sporting the TJS motif – cross over the Union Jack flag, surrounding by a series of spheres representing football, archery and the world. ‘We thought we needed a globe to show that people from all over the world come to take part in and watch the Olympics,’ the designer, Zarina, says. According to Aleta and Ben, their design incorporates the world together with the Olympic logo to show unity in sport, while many designs reflect the idea of friendship between people and nations. ‘The Olympics show that everyone can be friends with everyone else,’ says 10-year-old Florence. Around about now, the children decide it would be a good idea if their house teams adopt the names of Olympic countries. Of course, they all want to be England or Pakistan.

During the designing and making process, the youngsters reflect on the progress of their work – identifying ways they could improve their products. While some have forgotten that their Olympics is not taking place in 2012, some have focused only on certain aspects of the design brief and need to think of ways of incorporating the other aspects into their logo. Others have all the aspects in place but they are separate so the young designers need to think of ways of combining the different elements for aesthetic effect. One boy is concentrating particularly hard on making it clear that the event will take place at his school. ‘It’s no use us moaning that we can’t tell what the 2012 Olympic logo is going on about unless our own designs are clearer,’ he says.

Outside, the afternoon’s sporting events take on more meaning as in true Olympic-style youngsters realise they must take responsibility for what is going on. Although competing against each other, individuals also work together to make sure each event runs smoothly and everyone is given the opportunity to practice for a few minutes before their performance. Working in threes, records are kept of placings and times scored as each group member realises that they are not just shooting for individual gold, silver and bronze but just like in the Olympics scoring points for their teams.

‘Major sporting events can provide an engaging and relevant focus for activity in all areas of the curriculum,’ says a coach from Aylesbury Community Partnership who organised the day as part of ACP’s Physical Fun project, thanks to funding secured through the Local Network Fund with the help of the Buckinghamshire Foundation. ‘It’s good to see what the youngsters have learnt in the classroom having a positive impact on how they perform on the sports field.’