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Using the Olympics to study Multiculturalism


This is the result of the DASP Humanities Working Party. We felt one of the main issues for our students of all ages was their lack of awareness and understanding of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is an opportunity for students to understand the importance and interesting points of many cultures, which any society is formed. In order to properly convey these ideas, it is worth involving 123helpme and trusted sources that will be able to establish a correct understanding of the life and value of each people and the cultures of which they are a part. The Olympics provides an opportunity to explore some of these issues in a contemporary and exciting manner to increase understanding of a multicultural Britain and combat racism.
There are three main strands? Challenging viewpoints and misconceptions; Viewing the world as a Global Village; Demonstrating the changing and evolving nature of equality, mirrored by the Olympics.

We feel that this work is a great way of teaching important issues. The resources can be used as they are or amended to suit the students? particular needs. We hope that you find this useful and that your students become actively engaged in these lessons and activities. If you would like to give any feedback please email me on

You can also download this scheme of work as a Word File - Click here

Aims and Objectives

Teaching ideas

Resources (Provided resources are in bold)

Challenging misconceptions about Britishness

Look at pictures of two athletes.  Philips Idowu is black, was born in Britain and his family is originally from Nigeria.  Peter Reed is white, was born in the USA and now competes for Britain.

Without telling the children who they are, ask them to think about the athletes? backgrounds.  Where are they from? Where were they born? What sport might they do? How old are they?  Are they British?  Children to talk/ draw/ write a profile of what they think the athletes? backgrounds are.

Ask the children why they had those ideas about the athletes.  Reveal to the children the backgrounds of the athletes.  Are they surprised?  Why? Discuss any stereotypes the children might have had.  Refer to skin colour and challenge misconceptions about Britishness.

 ?Athletes? photographs for discussion?

Challenging misconceptions about immigration


Ask the children to find out where different people in their own family are from OR where they used to live. Plot these individual Family Geographies on maps of Britain and the world.  See ?Britain and World Maps?. Compare different children?s Family Geographies. 

?Britain and World Maps?

You could make a class map with origins of surnames shaded in.

Draw a rough map of Britain on the floor using masking tape.  Tell the story of British migration. As you go, give children labels (and ask them to enter the map.)  Talk to the children about how the British are made up of people from all over the world and how migration is still happening today.  Talk about the fact that people mix over time and we are all mixed race.

Using http://www.surnamedb.com/
look up origins of children?s surnames. 

Masking tape

When discussing Caribbean immigration, ask the children what the difference is between this and previous immigration.  Talk about skin colour.  Show the clip ?Mixed Race Twins? on and discuss why the girl felt the way she did.  Why was she different?  Aren?t we all mixed race? Why was she bullied?  Is skin colour really any more important than any of the other differences between different people?

?The History of British Immigration?
?Migration labels for children?
?We are Britain? photo opportunity.


Benjamin Zephaniah?s poems can be used to continue this discussion.    You could create a class poem about British people using each of the nationalities mentioned by Benjamin in ?The British?.

Children could complete a figure of themselves by shading different parts according to where they are from / what different nationalities they are made up of.  (Include Celts/ Romans etc. in this to show that we are all mixed race).  Ensure the children have understood that we are all migrants and we are all mixed race, even if we are white. 

?Poems by Benjamin Zephaniah ?.



?My Mixed Race Background?

Challenging viewpoints of who is British

Using ?Who should be on the British Olympic Team?? stimulate a class debate about which of the athletes to choose for the team.  Who is British?  You could set up a selection committee to make the decision.

?Who should be on the British Olympic Team?

To show the Olympics as a Global Village

This activity is very open ended. Essentially it is an opportunity for students to participate in an Olympic-esque Opening Ceremony. The scale of this is up to you but this could be done as a whole school, working with other schools, within year groups or even within just one class

Activities - Students in small groups could be given different countries to represent. They could research their country and different athletes from those nations.

Activity ? watch highlights of previous opening ceremonies
Use symbols to help design ideas.

They could also design their own British opening ceremony. What aspects of Britain do they want to present to the world? How should we show the world what Britain is?

?BBC News -  Danny Boyle?s Challenge?
?Opening ceremony? urged to reflect our multicultural society.



? Olympic Symbols?


To explore how the Olympics is a reflection of history and equality.


We have highlighted key events that have occurred in the Olympic Games over time, to use as a representation of the change in the politics of the world over time.  The Olympics have symbolised a move towards greater equality between sexes, races, abilities, countries.  These issues could be explored, lesson by lesson with all students involved.  Alternatively, students might want to work in groups on a particular issue/ event.   They could produce presentations or newspaper reports.


1896 ? no women, 1900 Paris Olympics was the first one with women competing.

Use website link and students pick out photos between 1896 and 1900 and work out the difference.

?1896 Olympic Games? ppt and video.

Students work out the difference to now ? Key aspect ?
no women, very few non-Europeans.
?Athens 1896 Medal Table?


1936 ? Hitler, Berlin Olympics and Jesse Owens

Explain to students that they will be learning about runner Jesse Owens and what his accomplishments symbolized to the world.  Discuss world events and the state of civil rights in 1936. Ask students to generate a list of different types of people who may have been watching the 1936 Olympics. (Nazi supporters, Hitler, members of various ethnic groups, a black American, other athletes, etc.). Write the roles Nazi Supporter, Fellow Athlete, and African American as headings at the top of the board.

?Berlin 1936 Medal Table?
Jesse Owens -

Ask students to generate a list of emotions each group of people may have felt watching Jesse Owens' victories during the track and field events.
Direct students to select one of the roles on the board, disregarding their personal feelings. Explain that they will be pretending to be a Nazi, an athlete, or an African American. Give students time to research the Nazi Party's views and the state of the Civil Rights Movement in America in 1936.
Hotseating for different viewpoints

1948 ? London Olympics ? peace, forgiveness, taking part

?1948 London Olympics Medal Table?
1948 ? BBC Archive footage:

1968 ? Black Power.

Show image of Black power salute on medal rostrum:
?Black Power? powerpoint
?1968 Mexico Medal Table?

Very good video:

1980 ? Moscow Olympics, Cold War no USA.

Use medal table as a way of exploring what is noticeably different to normal.


1988, Seoul - First official Paralympics





?1980 Moscow medal table?

?Paralympics medal table? 2008. There are access questions for students to explore.

?Olympics or Paralympics? PPt looking at 3 different athletes who want to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics.  What do the students think?
(Reveal photos of disabilities after introducing the athletes.)

To evaluate equality of opportunity in the current Olympics

What do the Olympic games look like now?  What are the current issues?  How equal or fair is it?  Who is advantaged?  Who is disadvantaged and why?

Potential activities include:

  • analysis of medal tables ? who wins medals?
  • analysis of host countries ? who hosts it?
  • scattergraph showing GDP against Number of medals
  • scattergraph showing Population against Number of medals
  • scattergraph showing life expectancy against number of medals

(To make it more accessible you could rank the countries in order of population size first and then do a scattergraph based on their rank rather than actual population.)

A different group of children could analyse each data set and then share what they have discovered.


NY times ? great little resource showing countries and
medals won over time

?Countries competing in the Olympics over time?

?Where have the Olympics Taken place?

?What influences how successful a country is at the Olympics?? 

What other issues need to be overcome in the future?

What will future improvements or progress be? 
There is still some progress to be made with regards to development, gender, infrastructure.  Why are the Paralympics after the Olympics?  Why are they separate?  Why are men?s finals after women?s?  Are they more important?  Look at pay equality between countries/ sexes etc.

What should the Olympics be like in 2050?  Ask students to think and design an ideal future Olympic games.
Write an historical account of how the Olympics have changed since 2012?