If proof were needed of how inspirational athletics can be to schoolchildren, then look no further than the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Amid a record medal haul for Team GB, interest in athletics surged across the UK. With the World Para Athletics Championships (14-23 July) and the IAAF World Championships (4-13 August) coming to London this summer, the British team will once again be stoking the nation’s excitement as they go for gold. So how can teachers tap into the buzz and introduce a competitive edge into the classroom?
A little competition can bring out the best in students: there is plenty of research to suggest that a competitive element to learning improves pupil engagement, teamwork skills, motivation and ultimately attainment.
To start with, create a display in the classroom in the form of a running track, leaderboard or a gold, silver and bronze podium. Give each pupil a star or a medal with their initials on. Whenever they do something worthy of points or progression, they can move themselves up the running track towards the finishing line, up the leaderboard or into a podium position.
Incorporate the following lesson ideas into the leaderboard and you will be amazed at how even the most hesitant student can be revitalised by the chance to compete against their classmates.
1. Learn cultural/geographical knowledge
This can be done in reference to countries that are involved in the World Para Athletics Championships or IAAF World Championships. Allocate one competing country to each pupil and ask them to research key facts and figures about it. These could include population size, capital city, prominent athletes, track record of the nation’s athletic prowess in previous competitions and probability of success in the upcoming championships. Get pupils to produce a Top Trumps-style card on an A4 sheet of paper on which they present all that they have researched and learned about the country.
During or after the competition, students can add results, facts and information that they have seen broadcast or covered in the media. Not only does this improve locational awareness and geographical context, but it also gets pupils excited and competitive about their given country and its athletes.
2. Write reports on the athletic events
Media writing on athletics is a fantastic way for pupils to not only absorb interest in the games, but also have something real to write about. For example, task them with writing a report on the action from a particular event. Alternatively, they could pen a ‘day in the life’ account of one of the competing athletes; create a Twitter feed for the day’s action; write a newspaper article or blog; or simply compose a piece of writing to educate fellow pupils and encourage the rest of the school to follow the championships.
Regardless of the writing activity you choose, give pupils a list of assessment objectives and a scaffold or crib sheet, if necessary, that requires them to include, but not limited to, the following aspects: a range of literary terms, rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, simile, alliteration, onomatopoeia, emotive and persuasive language etc. Differentiate for the top end of the class and encourage pupils to use a thesaurus to improve their emotive and descriptive vocabulary.
Pupils can present their work in groups or pairs; peers then assess their work based on the assessment objectives and can award points. This is a way to engage the whole class with the task. Those who have used the most and best literary devices are then allowed to progress on the leaderboard display.
3. Boost analytical skills through debate
Debating is a great way to encourage different levels of thinking among your students as well as a sense of ownership. Ask them to pick a country partaking in the World Athletics Championships and have them write a pitch to host the event. Why should this country be given the event? What are the pros and cons to this country hosting the championships? What are the lasting impacts on the economy, socially, environmentally and politically, and also on the legacy of athletics and participation itself? Why should that country be picked to host an athletics event over any other?
Set up a classroom debate on the pros and cons of each side of the argument. Ask pupils to create a five-minute pitch and give them a few key questions to consider for each side of the debate; encourage them to research a range of articles, websites and news reports to gather evidence to support their arguments. During their pitch, the other team has to come up with three probing questions for them to answer – give them a mini whiteboard to do this (you can give question stems to differentiate if need be). The other team then has its five-minute pitch followed by a repeat of the question task. For those who are reluctant to speak and become involved in the debate, ask them to write the questions or confer with teammates to come up with answers – this ensures everyone in the classroom is involved.
Now, let the debate commence.
Rules: do not interrupt, and listen to all parties. Ensure that all members of the team speak; if they did not deliver in the pitch, then they have to ask a question. Give points on the leaderboard to pertinent questions, good listening skills, clear and concise delivery and strong arguments, and award a gold medal to the winning team.
4. Mix numeracy with athletics
When teaching athletics outside, such as relays, sprints, jumping and throwing events, incorporate numeracy. Work out the class mean, average, mode and median results of each of the events that the class partakes in. What is the optimum angle that a shot putter should throw the shot? Why do some athletes favour the Fosbury Flop in the high jump and why do long jumpers ‘cycle’ their legs in the air? Depending on the age and ability of the pupils, complete a statistical analysis of class results (a comparison with the professional results is often interesting), use of angles and forces to work out the best technique for a range of events – and be able to explain why.
5. Film athletics lessons
Video pupils partaking in athletics events (having first gained their permission); in the classroom, give each pair a video clip of pupils competing in a specific event. The students then have to think about and discuss the science of the main muscles used for each event. Explain the types of muscles and their composition; contraction and movements needed; how the muscles work in pairs with antagonist and agonist muscles; and the fast- and slow-twitch fibres needed for each event. Then pupils are tasked with creating their own athletics lesson plan to engage and work these muscles, including warm-up and cool-down activities for the specific muscles that are most commonly used in those events.
Athletics teaching doesn’t need to remain on the track to inspire. Bringing these relatively simple yet effective ideas into classroom teaching can be a great way to boost pupil enthusiasm and engagement, while at the same time developing a greater understanding of key curriculum subjects. So why not use the championships as a stepping stone to encourage more motivation, commitment and engagement among your pupils?
Rebecca Bownas teaches geography, PE and games at Hurstpierpoint College