Humanities - Just for starters

27th January 2012 at 00:00
Leap into Olympic ceremonies

Primary schools are already looking for ways to tap into pupils' enthusiasm for the 2012 Olympics. The simplest solution is to create a topic web with "The Olympics" at the centre and make a medium-term plan for lessons focusing on the Games.

For it to be effective, you should:

- restrict coverage to a particular aspect of the Olympics;

- limit the number of subjects included in a particular plan;

- identify a subject, such as history, that will take the lead;

- devise interesting, challenging key questions that spark pupils' curiosity while setting up a problem for them to solve.

The Olympics offers many opportunities for primary history, the most obvious being the Ancient Greeks at key stage 2. But to cover all the history of the Ancient Olympics would leave children swamped with facts. A narrower focus on one aspect of the Games, such as the opening ceremony, lends itself to a series of key questions drawing on various skills: "How do we know how the Ancient Greeks opened the Games?"(look at evidence); "What shall we include in our reconstruction?" (create an interpretation); "How have ceremonies changed?" (contrast them).

For the first question, children need to find evidence from a range of sources. They can track down images of archaeological remains and read contemporary and modern accounts of ceremonies.

Such a focus could link to literacy and geography, showing how athletes travelled to the Games from the shores of Spain and from the Black Sea. In deciding how the opening ceremony might be acted out, pupils could use speaking, listening and drama, design and make costumes and props, and write and perform music.

Or they could re-create the parade of competitors, judges and ambassadors that took place on day three of the Games. They could then compare their ceremonies with those of the modern Games by viewing footage of the 1948 "Austerity Olympics" in London and the 2008 opening ceremony in Beijing. Perhaps the biggest contrast is the absence of religion now and the importance of putting on an, often expensive, show.

Children could end by planning and staging their own opening ceremony for 2012. This makes a direct link to the present and offers a chance to reflect on the values of the Games in PSHE.

Andrew Wrenn is a humanities adviser in Cambridgeshire and a trustee of the Historical Association

What else?

For cross-curricular Olympics-themed resources, try FranklinWatts' activities.

Try a fun introduction to the Ancient Greek Games with rcolton's PowerPoint.

Stuck for ideas? lorraryall has shared a topic web full of inspiration for teaching Ancient Greece.

Spruce up your classroom with Olympic-themed posters from

Find more resources on this fascinating era of history in the TES Ancient Greece collection.

In the forums

Teachers share the most commonly misspelt words in history lessons on the TES History forum. Can you add to the list?

For all links and resources visit

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