Hold Your Own Linguistic Olympic Games: 10 ESL Activities for the Olympics

Hold Your Own Linguistic Olympic Games
10 ESL Activities for the Olympics

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 54,868 views

Is your class excited about the 2012 Summer Olympic Games that will be hosted by London in just a matter of days?

You can take advantage of that excitement by holding your own Olympics, a Linguistic Olympics that will test your students’ language skills and allow them to have fun in the process. Here’s how.

Try These 10 ESL Activities for the Olympics

  1. 1


    Everyone who watches the Olympics wants to follow the winners from their country. Start your linguistic Olympics by setting up a scoreboard with a section for each country represented in your room or each student in your class. This is where you will keep track of how many medals each person wins. You can use a bulletin board, a large white board, or a large piece of paper. When each person or country wins a gold, silver or bronze medal, put one in the right spot on the scoreboard. Use photocopies or printouts of medals and staple or tape them to the scoreboard.

  2. 2

    The Marathon

    The key to success in a marathon is having the strength and capabilities to last for the long haul. Participants in a Spelling B need a similar long-range outlook. In honor of the marathon, host a Spelling B in your class, using vocabulary words you have studied throughout the year, and see who can last the longest. The three participants who last longest are your medal winners.

  3. 3


    Fencing is a delicate and careful sport that necessitates elegance. Likewise, diagramming sentences according to syntactic rules is a delicate and particular process. Give your students some experience with the linguistic challenge and help them understand the underlying rules of English grammar as they practice identifying noun phrases, verb phrases, prepositional phrases and sentences. Give a timed exercise for the official score and award medals accordingly.

  4. 4


    The key to success as a swimmer is being able to cut through the thick context of the water as you swim across the pool. Give your students their own cut to the quick exercise with a reading comprehension activity. Make it a race and see how quickly your students can cut through the entirety of a reading text to the essential information. Try hosting a newspaper scavenger hunt (have students scan the paper for answers to specific questions) and see who is most fleet of mind. The speediest players who also get the answers right will bring home the gold (or silver or bronze).

  5. 5


    Archery zeros in on one essential element. Athletes are trying to hit the specific mark. Give your students a cloze exercise where they need to find an exact word that completes a text both grammatically and contextually. To create a cloze activity, take any text and replace every fifth word with a blank. See how close your students can come to the original answer, but take any other answers that complete the text logically. Everyone with 100% earns a gold.

  6. 6

    The Relay

    As runners race in a relay, they depend on one another for the team’s overall success. You can challenge teams of your students to relay on each other in a similar way with a spelling relay race. Using vocabulary words you have already studied in class, the longer the words the better, put students into teams of five or six, and line them up facing the board. To start the race, call out one of the vocabulary words. Each team should race to put the word on the board, but each player can only put up one letter. If someone made a mistake, the current player can erase any or all of the word, but they can only add one letter. For example, if you called the word home, the first student would run up and write h on the board. Then run back. The second student would then run up, write o, and run back. The teams continue one person and one letter at a time until one team spells the word correctly. Everyone on the winning team gets the gold.

  7. 7


    Soccer players must work as a team, relying on their teammates’ skills and abilities to score as many points possible each game. Challenge your students to make letters work together as a team with this simple word generation game. Put a long word on the board, one that has at least ten letters. Review the definition and then show your students how you can use the letters within that word to make other, smaller word. For example, from the word example your students would be able to make map, leap, ax, etc. Give your students one or two minutes to form as many words as they can from the letters that make up the word on the board. Whoever comes up with the highest number of words wins the gold medal.

  8. 8

    Synchronized Swimming

    Can your students word together seamlessly, matching their meaning as synchronized swimmers match the movement of their bodies? Test them to find out. Assign your students to pairs, and give each pair a blindfold, which one player will wear during the activity. Line your pairs across a gym wall, the blindfolded person in front, the other behind, and put an object somewhere in the room. The person without the blindfold will have to shout directions to his partner as that person slowly races to the object. The first person to capture the goal object is the winner. Note, if you have a large class or a small room, consider playing in rounds and having winners advance to the finals.

  9. 9


    Your students will have to wrestle with their minds and vocabulary in this challenging game. Have your students write the letters a through z on a piece of paper. In this activity, you will write a category on the board and they will have a limited amount of time to think of one member of the category that begins with each letter of the alphabet. If you were to put sports up as the category, your students would be looking for answers like archery, basketball, canoeing, dodge ball, etc. The person with the most correct answers takes home the winning medal.

  10. q

    The Awards Ceremony

    During the Olympic presentation of medals after each event, pride swells in the citizens of the winning nation as they hear the familiar melody of their national anthem. Your students may have similar feelings about their own national anthem, even if it does not come with a gold medal. As you and your class close your linguistic Olympic games, give each of your students a chance to share his or her national anthem with the class. You should let the class listen, and then ask each person to share what he knows about the anthem and how it came to be. If you want presentations that are more formal and contain more information, give your students some time to research their national anthems before the presentation.

If you had a torch lit in your classroom, it would be time to snuff it out.

The Olympics are over, but that does not mean language learning stops. Continue to encourage your students toward fluency and competence in English, and everyone will be a winner.

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