Winter Olympics Lesson Ideas

February 9th marks the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Athletes from 90 countries will travel to PyeongChang, South Korea, to compete for a chance to win a world championship in their sport. The Olympics is an exciting event for athletes and spectators alike. Use this year's games to teach useful skills in math, social studies, and language arts.

One of the most symbolic events of any Olympic Games is taking place right now: the Olympic Torch Relay. People from diverse walks of life traditionally take turns carrying the torch across miles and miles; often, the route passes through more than one country. If you teach geography and culture, then be sure to check out the official website of the Olympics to see pictures and videos of the relay, as well as key facts about the event. You will notice runners cover a variety of landscapes that also vary in climate. Some areas are rural, but the race enters many urban locations, too. Stops along the way also showcase culturally significant points of interest. These images are great sources for allowing your students to explore a foreign land. Since much of this year's torch race runs through South Korea, have students research the cities and regions of the country.

Students can compare the geography of South Korea to that of our own country. If desired, this can be done as a whole class or in small groups. Doing so is a great scaffolding idea. Students can see the instructor model how to research and report findings. Then, together, the groups of students can practice research skills and the delivery of what has been learned. To demonstrate their level of mastery, students can cover the geography of another country that is participating in PyeongChang.

A different approach to a similar activity requires students to research the cultural background of either a torch bearer or an Olympian competing in the Games. The slogan chosen for the Games in PyeongChang is "Let Everyone Shine." This slogan sends a message of hope and tolerance. As your students research their subject, discuss with them the surprising elements they uncover about the target culture. Again, students can share with the class what they have uncovered about the culture.

Math teachers will definitely want to incorporate the Olympics into their lessons, too. The Games bring countless opportunities for students to see real-world applications of mathematics. Even students in the earliest of grades will be able to appreciate this. If your youngsters need practice in counting or basic addition and subtraction, the Olympics can help illustrate those concepts. Begin with an opening activity that teaches students what Olympic medals look like, from what they are made, and why they matter in the games. Students can draw and color their own versions of the medals. These can then be used for counting practice. As the Games progress, students can monitor what country is winning which medal. Each time an award is given, students can add that number to the previous day's total. You might want to use some of the classroom's wall space to graph the results. Plus, when you do this you can use the student-created medals to show each country's standing.

Students learning about averages can chart times or points when they follow their favorite Olympic sport. For example, those who like the sledding competition known as luge can record the amount of time it takes lugers to finish the course. Once the data has been gathered, students can find the average time it takes a competitor to reach the finish line. Have students report their findings to the class. If desired, extend this activity by having students compare their numbers to those of past Olympic Games.

Additionally, the Olympics is a great topic for writing. Some of your students may have some experience with the winter sports. Prompt them to write about their opinion of the sport. On the other hand, students can write about which sport they would want to try. Another approach for using this topic is to practice technical writing. Students can research the sport and write about how it is played and what kind of equipment is used. Along with this information, they can report about the sport's history, including when it was introduced to the Olympic Games.

Whether you and your class follow the games for a day or from February 9th through February 25th, it is a great event to show students how their education ties in to the real world. Just as the Olympics works to deliver a message of hope for those across the globe, it delivers a message to students as well: their education matters.