Olympics in the Social Studies Classroom

Jordan Catapano
Jordan Catapano
15 Aug
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The Olympics shine a spotlight on the international stage, and as teachers we can take advantage of the interest and engagement the games provide. This summer the Rio 2016 games will give us plenty of memorable moments, but they will also provide many teachable moments as well. Here are some ideas for bringing the Summer Games into your classroom.

Follow a Country
Ask students to select one of the more than 200 nations competing at the Olympics.

Each student is then responsible for learning more about that country, tracking it through the Olympics and sharing with classmates what they discover. Give students questions and activities like these to explore:

  • How well does your nation perform at the Olympics?
  • What events are most significant historically and culturally?
  • Find the flag, draw your own, and explain the significance of the colors and design.
  • How well did the country do at the 2012 Olympics in London?
  • Where is this country geographically? Find them on a map and chart their journey to Rio.

Why not turn this into a whole event? Facilitate your own “Parade of Nations” and ask students to dress in their country’s colors, bring their flags, and prepare a short speech or presentation that talks about their country or some interesting fact about the Olympics.

Sign up for a FREE K-5 curriculum sample at our Olympics Headquarters

Name That National Anthem
We hear our national anthem before every sporting event and patriotic ceremony, but the Olympics are one of the few times we hear other nation’s anthems. Take time to play different national anthems for your students and explore how the music and words reflect each nation’s values and heritage. You can even get competitive and play “Name that Tune.”

Shine the Spotlight on Rio
These 2016 Rio games might be the first time many students have thought about Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or South America. What can they learn? Consider researching these questions as a class:

  • This is the first time a South American nation has hosted the Olympics. Why is that?
  • What other countries, regions, or continents have not hosted the Olympics?
  • Why do they speak Portuguese in Brazil?
  • What are the sights, sounds, and must-see destinations of Rio de Janeiro?
  • How has Brazil changed over the years? How has it stayed the same?
  • What does Brazil export, materially or culturally, that we might enjoy?
  • Take virtual tour of the city!

Sign up for a FREE 6-12 curriculum sample at our Olympics Headquarters

International Politics Meets the Olympics
For as peaceful and sportsmanlike as the Olympics strive to be, international politics lurk behind every corner.

Ask students to watch the games through a political lens and explore how the countries are getting along. Then have them to look at where wars, economic tensions, strained histories, and threats persist in the world, then explore how these relationships play out between the athletes on the field of competition.

Create Your Own Nation
One way to appreciate the social studies aspects of a given nation is to create your own country. Instead of directly researching an existing country, ask students to design their own island nation. They should name their new country, label it on the map, design a flag, compose a national anthem, and invent the statistics for population, history, culture, economy, and language that make a nation a nation.

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