10 Olympics Activities for Elementary and Middle School Students

The Summer Olympics are back in 2021! Aren’t you pumped? In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympic Games were canceled for the first time since World War II. The Summer Olympics have only been canceled four times in history since 1896.

People worldwide anticipate the Summer Olympics every four years. Everyone has their favorite games to watch—from gymnastics to swimming to basketball. Not only is history frequently made at these events, but occasionally, they bring out controversy. That’s what makes the Games a great resource for real-world, engaging lessons that will leave a lasting impression on students.

Olympics Activities for Elementary and Middle School Students

The following Olympics activities for elementary and middle school students will get your kids researching and learning more about the Summer Games. Five thought-provoking social studies and language arts activities will show students the impact of the Games on world history. Five math activities will help them see how math works in the sports world. Read on!

Social Studies and Language Arts Activities

Activity 1: Timeline Activity (Social Studies), Grades 4–6

The Summer Olympic Games have been disrupted, postponed, or canceled at least eight times in history. In this downloadable PDF timeline activity, your students will research the events that significantly affected the games. If your students get stuck, this resource has the answers you’ll need to help them out.

Activity 2: Quote Analysis (Social Studies/Language Arts), Grades 6+

The 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, occurred during a tense era in world history. During these Games, track star Jesse Owens foiled Hitler’s plan to prove to the world the racial superiority of Germany’s Aryan athletes. The following brief passage gives insight into what Owens faced:

“The Second World War“ from HMH Into Social Studies Grade 6.

Have students independently research the story of Owens and the 1936 Olympics. Start a discussion about what happened, the details they found, and their opinion of the events that unfolded. Students then will choose one of the following five quotes (or research to find their own) from Owens:

  • “Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded; friends gather no dust.”
  • “Although I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President either.”
  • “The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that’s where it’s at.”
  • “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”
  • “Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing in it.”

Have students reflect on the quote in writing or discuss their ideas with the class. What do these statements reveal about Owen’s relationship with other competitors, his reception after returning to the United States, finding the good in humanity, fulfilling dreams, or the battles we all face within ourselves?

Activity 3: Good Sports (Social Studies/Language Arts), Grades 4–8

Challenge students to research an Olympic athlete from the past or present century. To get started, direct them to a website with a list of top athletes to choose from. Then students should gather relevant information from multiple credible sources using the internet and reference books to support their writing. Finally, have them prepare a brief report, emphasizing any obstacles the athletes faced before or during their career and how those obstacles were overcome. Allow time for students to present their reports to the class.

Activity 4: Pinpoint a City (Social Studies), Grades 1–6

Since 1896, there have been 28 Summer Olympic Games held in 23 cities. In this activity, your students will locate past, present, and future host cities on a map. This is ideally a fun, interactive Olympics activity for elementary students. If you are conducting this activity virtually, consider displaying a world map behind you.

What You Need

  • Wall or floor map of the world
  • Teacher-made (or purchased) flags of various countries
  • Tape, glue, wooden craft sticks, or toothpicks (to hold flags)

What to Do

  1. Discuss with your students the process of bidding to host the Olympics and why certain cities are chosen to host the games. Afterward, provide them with a list of past and future host countries.
  2. Help children match each country’s flag to the appropriate locations on a large wall or floor map of the world. You can assign each student one country to locate, depending on the size of your class.

Teaching Options

Show children how to use tape and string or yarn to measure the distance between two cities.

Activity 5: Life in a Year (Social Studies/Language Arts), Grades 4–8

Students will collaborate with one another to write and publish a digital magazine that captures what life was like during a particular Olympics year. They will use the internet to gather sources to cite in their work.

What You Need

  • Reference materials
  • Word processing and computer art programs (optional)
  • Current magazines

What to Do

  1. Choose any Olympics year. Have students share what they know about that year and think about what life was like during that time.
  2. Divide the class into editorial teams. Tell students that each team will publish its own digital magazine “Year in Review” issue to recreate what life was like during an Olympics year of their choice.
  3. Tell students that their magazines should include articles from the following departments: the arts (including movies, radio, and television), fashion, sports, politics and government, and international affairs. Suggest that they vary the formats of their stories, such as mixing straight news, feature articles, and photo spreads. Advise students to study current magazines to help them decide on formats.
  4. Have teams publish their magazines and do a brief oral presentation to compare life during their research year to the present.

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Math Activities for Students

The Olympic Games provide a great opportunity to see math in action. Three-time Olympian DeeDee Trotter hosts an exploration of how math and sports intersect, as three student athletes get the scoop from an Olympic javelin thrower, a Paralympic cycling hopeful, and a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee dietician.

Watch the video below and, afterward, use the accompanying resources in your classroom.

Activity 6: Javelin Analysis, Grades 6–8

Challenge your students to analyze videos of javelin throws and graph the relationship between angle and distance.

Teacher’s Guide

Activity 7: Paralympic Hopeful, Grades 4–5

In this activity, your students will work in small groups, drawing a bicycle and a track and then racing the bicycle around the track. They will graph data to see how close they can get to pacing themselves like an elite cyclist. To do this activity virtually, have students try using a digital timer on their own and then report back with their data.

Teacher’s Guide

Activity 8: Post-Workout Smoothie, Grades 4–6

Have your students create an athlete, research the nutritional information of different ingredients, and use that information to make the perfect post-workout smoothie for their athlete.

Teacher’s Guide

Activity 9: Medal Functions, Grades 7–9

In this Olympics activity for middle school, have your students research data about Olympic and/or Paralympic medals won by different countries, and then build a graph based on their findings.

Teacher’s Guide

Activity 10: Setting Goals, Grades 6+

Students will set a goal and track their progress. For students who are first learning about rates, the activity not only shows a real-world example but also helps improve their lives along the way. For older students, the activity has a high ceiling and can contextualize topics including multivariable functions and nonlinear approximations.

Teacher’s Guide

More Olympic-Themed Activities

How do you celebrate and learn more about the Olympic Games in your class? Share your social studies and math Olympics lesson plans for elementary and middle school students with us on Twitter (@HMHCo) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.

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Give your students the chance to act like historians and develop their analytical skills with HMH Into Social Studies. This dynamic program includes engaging digital magazines and hands-on activities that will captivate your class.

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Learn more about the Math at Work web series, an effort in which industry leaders work with real students to demonstrate the importance of math.

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