Subtopic: Olympics (World Celebrations)

Grade level(s) of mini-unit: 2-3

Author: Ressa Budge


The first Olympic Games took place over 3,000 years ago in Greece. The Greeks believed that they honored the Gods by using and displaying their athletic abilities. Religious festivals were held often for this purpose. In fact, every four years a month-long festival was held by a large city-state. These celebrations were so important that during the month of the festival all fighting among them stopped. The festival that our modern Olympic Games were patterned after was held at the foot of Mount Olympus, the peak of which was believed to be the home of the Gods. This festival was one of the largest and most important to the Greeks because of its location and religious purpose. To show further honor with this festival they built a temple and very large stadium to hold the Games. During this festival (and all the early festivals) the events only included a few foot races, but as time went on additional sports were added.

This growth continued in events as well as participants. Originally only male Greek citizens could compete but it was later opened to women and foreigners as well. Pageants, parades and feasts were added to the festivals, and religious rituals including sacrifices became an element of importance. Unfortunately, the upward trend didn't continue. There was an Olympic decline that lasted for several decades, beginning when the Roman Empire conquered Greece around 100 BC. The festival lost its religious significance and money became the center of the Games. In AD. 393 the Roman emperor Theodosius I declared an end to the Olympics because of its contradiction with Christianity.

It wasn't until 1889 that the idea of the Olympic Games returned. A French educator named Baron Pierre de Coubertin felt that by encouraging athletics for the youth, people of the world would come to have a better understanding of one another, thus promoting peace. People did not embrace his idea right away but through perseverance and belief in his cause he finally met with a group of representatives from 12 countries in June of 1894 and formed the International Olympic Committee (the IOC). This group decided to organize an international sports competition, much like those Games of ancient Greece, which would take place every 4 years in different cities around the world each time. The first modern Olympics was held in Athens, Greece in 1896 where 285 people from 13 countries participated. Since then the games have been held every 4 years with the exception of the years during the World Wars (1916, 1940, 1944).

These games consisting only of summer sports were under way. Winter sports were not included in the organized games despite their popularity in cold-weather countries. Many winter sports which had developed from the need to get around in cold weather had been popular for years. During the 1908 Olympic Games, ice skating was included as an event for the first time and then again in 1920 along with ice hockey. People really enjoyed these events and because of their popularity, many wanted to organize a separate Olympics for these winter sports. During this time, Nordic Games (competition of winter events) were being held in Sweden every 4 years and so the Scandinavian countries were strongly opposed to this idea. Nevertheless, it was decided that there was enough interest to do both, and so the Winter Olympics were organized. In 1924, the first Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, in the French Alps consisting of 300 athletes representing 16 nations.

As a result of the success in 1924, the IOC decided to make them a permanent event. Like the Summer Games, the Winter Games have been held every 4 years (except those during the World Wars) each time in a different country. The cities desiring the privilege of hosting the Olympics must apply 8 years in advance, then 6 years before the games the IOC chooses one of these cities to be the official site. It was announced in 1996 that the 2002 Winter Olympic Games would be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Having the Winter Olympics during the same year as the Summer Olympics began to produce conflict. In order to eliminate these problems, the IOC decided in 1991 to organize the Winter Olympics so that they occurred in alternate even years of the Summer Olympics. This made 1994 the first alternate even year of this new organization.

Despite the religious significance of the ancient Olympics, the modern Olympics have come to signify something new. Two of the most symbolic elements of the Olympics have come to represent this new significance. First, the Olympic Flag contains the interlocking circles which was designed after a similar pattern found on an ancient alter in Greece. This has come to represent the international sporting friendship. The rings also stand for the 5 parts of the world that were represented in the early modern Olympic Games (Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas), each being connected to its neighbor to symbolize the friendship connection. The colors used on the flag are represented at least once in most nations flags as well. Second, the torch symbolizes the athlete's work toward perfection and their struggle for victory. It also symbolizes the continuity between the ancient and modern Olympic Games. The heart of the Olympic Games is now the uniting of countries in friendship to celebrate and honor the finest Olympians from each country.


Arnold, C. (1991). The Olympic Summer Games. New York: Franklin Watts.

Arnold, C. (1991). The Olympic Winter Games. New York: Franklin Watts.

Hennessy, B.G. (1996). Olympics! New York: Viking.

Knight, T. (1991). The Olympic Games. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books Inc.

Hadfield, et al. (1996). Olympism: Lighting the Way to a Legacy of Peace. Glendale, CA: Griffin Publishing.


• Students will identify historical events leading up to the present day Olympics.

• Students will identify the economical benefits and disadvantages the Olympics can have on a State/Country.

• Students will be able to identify ways in which the 2002 Olympics may benefit or hinder their family or members of their community.

• Students will become familiar with the various events of the Olympics through researching and presenting one particular event to the class.

• Students will recognize the meanings and symbolism of the Olympic Flag and Torch and apply this to their own feelings of the classroom by creating their own symbol/flag to represent these feelings.

• Students will understand the concept of an Olympian in relation to the concept of a hero, and then identify one hero in their lives.

• Students will identify healthy foods that would be used by Olympians in training.

• Students will have a deeper desire for peace and identify one way in which they can promote it.

Time allotment: Approximately 5 class periods.

Resources Needed:

• World Map

• 7-8 pieces of butcher paper (approximately 3 feet long each)

• The book Olympics by, B.G. Hennessy.

• Paper (lined, plain white, and construction)

• Crayons, markers or colored pencils

• magazines


A. Mini-lecture: Give a brief lesson on the history of the Olympics using the background information provided. Show the students significant locations on the map (Mount Olympus, Athens, Greece, France, and Utah) as the lesson is taught. Then have the students share elements of the history lesson they felt to have had historical significance. Write these along with their dates on the board. Divide the students into cooperative learning groups. Have them make a time line and include important events spanning from the ancient Games to the announcement of the 2002 Winter Games in SLC, Utah. Encourage creativity. Students should have at least 6 events on their timeline. Display these around the room. (Time needed: one class period.)

B. Literature Connection/ Extension: Read the book Olympics! by, B. G. Hennessy. After the book has been read, have the students brainstorm how people/businesses in the country/state are able to make money through the Olympics focusing on pages 8-10 of the book. Also, have them brainstorm some of the disadvantages of having the Olympics in your coutry/state. (As they are brainstorming relate this to the 2002 Olympics coming here to Utah. What businesses will benefit? What groups will not see this Olympics as a positive event? Will it affect any of their families or community members directly? How?.) After they have been allowed time to brainstorm, have the students write down at least 2 benefits and 2 disadvantages on paper. Divide the students into groups and have them share their ideas with the group. (Time needed: half of a class period.)

C. Think-Pair-Share: Have the students think of all the Olympic Winter events they are familiar with. Then have the students pair up and share their ideas with their teammate. Then have the pairs share at least 2 ideas with the class. (List these on the board to use as research topics for the next activity). (Time needed: half of a class period.)

D. Mini-Research: Assign each pair of students one event to research. Topics to choose from are:

Students will research the topic so that they can give a short 2-3 minute presentation of the sport (including where it takes place, how it is "played", and how many people participate per team). Research should be done during their weekly library visit. Extra time in the library should be provided if needed. (Time needed: one class period-25 minutes for research, 35 minutes for presentation.)

E. Centers: During this class period, students will be involved in centers. A brief mini-lesson on each topic will need to be given before they divide into groups. Each lesson should run only 5 minutes (at the longest) and include directions on the activity they will be doing in the center. This will allow 15 minutes at each center.

Center 1: Hands-on: During the mini-lesson, discuss how the Flag and the Torch have come to represent the true spirit of the Olympics, (see the background information for details). Have the students design their own flag or item that represents the united spirit of the classroom and its members.

Center 2: Concept Development: During the mini-lesson discuss the concept of an Olympian (determined individual, physically fit, strong in mind body and will, fair, hard worker, etc.) in relation to the concept of a hero (someone we admire, one who is courageous, strong, noble, etc.). Discuss why we often see Olympians as heroes. Give an example of one of your personal Olympic heroes and explain why he or she is your hero. In the center, have the students write about one of their own personal heroes. Have them name the hero and list at least three qualities about them that makes them a hero (this does not have to be an Olympian as they may not know of any at this age).

Center 3: Hands-on: Give a brief mini-lesson on nutrition (the Food Pyramid may be good to use at this time). Discuss foods that are healthy and those that are not. In the centers have crayons, paper, glue and magazines. Have the students make a collage of nutritional foods they would eat if they were training for the Olympics. Share with the students special foods the Olympians intake. Be sure to point out that atheletes intake a high amount of calories and why.

F. Discussion: The modern day Olympics were established to promote peace among the various countries of the world. During the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics, all participants gather together to celebrate their successes and accomplishments. The hope and dream of Baron Pierre de Coubertin was that through athletics people would come to understand one another better which in turn would promote peace in the country. World peace has not been attained as of yet, but it is something we continually work towards. Discuss this with the students and have the students share reasons why they feel world peace is so difficult to attain. Is their constant peace in the classroom? If not, why is this? Share with the students that there are things we can do as individuals that will help us promote peace among others. Have the students discuss things they can do to promote peace. Examples of this are: learn about other cultures, be a good listener, be open to other's feelings, etc. Following the discussion, the students should write one idea on paper and illustrate it. Make a book from these ideas. Keep this in your class library for students to read.


• Time lines will be assessed.

• Mini-presentation will be assessed.

• Hero identification will be assessed.

• Statement of peace promotion will be assessed.


Parent letter:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

In two weeks we will be starting a unit on the Olympics. This unit will last approximately one week and will consist of many activities. We could really use your help! If you have any time during the week of that you could come in and help with activities (centers, discussions, research, cooperative groups, or constructing a class book), please sign and return this letter by . Please include your telephone number and times available. If you are unable to volunteer time but would still like to contribute, we are in need of some old magazines. If you would be willing to donate these to the class, please indicate this in the appropriate space. I will be calling you within the next week to work out the details. Our class really appreciates your help!

Thank You,

Ressa Budge



Telephone Number:___________________


Times Available:_________________________________________

Supplies: _____ Old magazines

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