Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Live from Ancient Olympia!

Created September 30, 2010


The Lesson


Live from Ancient Olympia!: Kylix

Kylix. Athlete with discus; c. 500 BCE, Greek, Attic red-figure

Credit: ┬ęKathleen Cohen , Athens. Greece.

If television had existed in the time of the ancient Greek athletes Milo of Kroton, Diagoras of Rhodes, Melankomas of Caria, Polydamas of Skotoussa, and Theagenes of Thasos, no doubt their triumphs in the ancient Olympic Games would have been the subject of numerous live broadcast interviews. In this lesson, students will have an opportunity to develop such "live interviews" with ancient athletes; working in small groups, they will produce a script based on the results of their research and they will perform the interview for other students in the class.

To prepare meaningful scripts of questions and responses for their interviewers and athletes, student groups will draw upon resources of an online exhibit, "The Ancient Olympics" , developed for the EDSITEment-reviewed Perseus Project. Designed especially for students, this exhibit includes sections on ancient and modern sports, the site of Olympia as it looks today, the cultural and historical context of the Games, and athletes who were famous in ancient times. Whether they access the site themselves or are provided with reprints by their teacher, students will find ample resources on "The Ancient Olympics" with which to construct interviews that reflect their understanding of some of the values and beliefs underlying the ancient Olympic Games.

This lesson can be taught either by itself or in conjunction with the more extensive lesson unit, "It Came From Greek Mythology" , which offers several activities for teaching about the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the ancient concept of the hero. Although designed for students in grades 3 through 5, much of "It Came From Greek Mythology" is adaptable for older students, and serves as a useful compendium of EDSITEment resources on Greek mythology and culture.

Guiding Questions

What beliefs and values are reflected in stories about famous athletes at the ancient Olympic Games?

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the city of Olympia and the ancient Olympic Games that were held there.
  • Read stories about ancient athletes.
  • Analyze the qualities for which ancient Olympic athletes were praised or blame.
  • Write and perform scripts for "live interviews" with ancient athletes that reflect an understanding of the beliefs and values that underlay the ancient Olympic Games.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Introduction to cultural context of the ancient Olympic Games


Introduce students to the cultural context of the ancient Olympic Games. Point out that the ancient, unlike the modern, Olympiad was a religious festival. Draw on the online essay, "The Greek City-States and the Religious Festival," for images and text that will help you introduce students to the religious aspects of the ancient Olympics (the essay is part of "The Ancient Olympics" exhibit). Tell students how Olympia, the setting of the ancient Games, was home to the Altis, the great Sanctuary of Zeus, and how the worship of the gods was an integral part of the ancient Olympic Games. You can make such details more vivid by showing students photographs of the physical remains of ancient Olympia, which is permeated by reminders of the gods; these images can be viewed as part of "Tour Olympia," also part of the online Olympics exhibit at the Perseus Project. You can find links to illustrations of and texts about Greek gods and goddesses, including Zeus, listed in the lesson plan "It Came From Greek Mythology."

As you present new material on the ancient Olympics, ask students to discuss differences or similarities with the modern Olympic games (a discussion which is aided by the general emphasis of the exhibit on comparing the ancient and modern Games). For example, you will read that champions received a crown of wild olive leaves that honored them, their family, and their city. Ask students how such prizes and compare with the rewards for Olympic athletes today. You can find a section devoted to modern-day Olympic Heroes on the official site of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library.

Activity 2. Research athlete

Divide the class into small groups, providing each group with copies of one of the "Athletes' stories" from the Perseus Project exhibit. Tell students that each group will designate one student to play the part of their assigned athlete, and another to play an imaginary journalist who will interview that athlete for a "live television audience." As a group, they will write a brief script telling other students who that athlete is and what his* experience can tell us about the beliefs and values reflected in the ancient Olympics (designate a third student, someone other than the athlete and the interviewer, to transcribe the groups' ideas). At the end of the class period, each pair (interviewer and athlete) will perform their scripted interview for the rest of the class. A prize--perhaps the nearest equivalent of a crown of wild olive--will be awarded according to the vote of the entire polis (the whole class). (*Only men competed in the ancient Olympics.)

Also at the outset of this activity, tell students that interviews should be brief, no more than five minutes, and should reflect what they have learned about the values and beliefs that were important to the ancient Olympic Games. While students cannot change the basic facts of an athlete's life (invent medals or honors or change the dates of birth and death, etc.), they may invent minor personal details that are consistent with the circumstances of ancient Greece and with what we know about the athlete's life.

Note: As always, you should thoroughly review all material before distributing it to classes or sending students to websites. Ancient Greek athletes competed in the nude, as is reflected in some of the illustrations on the online Olympics exhibit of the Perseus Project.

Activity 3. Write script detailing who athlete is his experience

Give each group time to read through its assigned story. Next, provide students with "Write a Script!", a handout of questions and guidelines, available here as a downloadable .pdf file. If each student group has access to the online exhibit, it will be able to research answers on its own. If this is not the case, students will need to be provided with reprints. (For example, to answer question #1, students will need to be familiar with some of the images provided in the "Tour of Olympia.") The questions on the handout are just a guide, and students may, when they write their scripts, invent questions besides those suggested in the handout. They may also ask the questions in any order they like. The idea here is to be creative and to develop a portrait of an ancient athlete that reflects some of the values and beliefs of the ancient Olympic Games.

Students may need additional help to answer some of the items, especially if they do not have direct online access to the Perseus exhibit. Some resources you may wish to share with them are

Activity 4. Perform "Interview"

Have each student group perform its interview for the class. To help students remember them, write the names of athletes being interviewed on the board (use the resources of Perseus for help in coming up with imagined names for interviewers. After each group's interview is over, have the interviewer say, "Now let's take some questions from our audience." At this stage, anyone in the group, not just the person playing the athlete, can answer questions from other students. After all the interviews are over, return to the subject of ancient versus modern Olympic Games, and discuss with students some of the differences that emerged in this exercise. Did anyone, for example, treat the aspect of religious worship that was so much a part of the ancient Games? You might want to create two columns on the board, juxtaposing ancient and modern Olympic elements. Further background for you and your students is available on "The Context of the Games and the Olympic Spirit."

Extending The Lesson

  • Think about ways the experience of performance might be enhanced. For example, as the interviewer proceeds, a third student could present material as part of a PowerPoint presentation (if this sounds like overkill, think of a CNN broadcast with the text "crawl" across the screen). Interviews could be videotaped, and might take place against the backgrounds of the stadium and vegetation. You might even create an Olympic festival in the school, with mock-games, and ads showcasing the products of Olympia (olives, sandals, clothing, and so on).
  • For additional lesson ideas (designed for grades 3 through 5, but adaptable to 6 through 8), see the more extensive lesson unit, "It Came from Greek Mythology," which offers several activities for teaching about the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as ancient concepts of the hero.
  • As an activity to link the stories of ancient and modern Olympic athletes, your students can also read about some of the personal qualities of Jesse Owens, as recounted in manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project 1936-1940 (examples are available in the American Memory collection); they might compare Owens's story to that of the boxer Diagoras of Rhodes, praised by the poet Pindar as a "fair-fighter." Pindar speaks of Diagoras in terms that are echoed in press accounts of Owens's character: he is a man who "walks a straight course on a road that hates arrogance." The moving story of Native American athlete Jim Thorpe is recounted on America's Story, a site designed especially for students and part of the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory collection.
  • Besides those provided in "It Came From Greek Mythology," for more activities on the definition and meaning of heroism, see the EDSITEment lesson plan unit, What Makes a Hero?, designed to help students analyze the meaning of heroism and to identify heroes in American history and in their own lives. The lesson plan What Makes a Hero? introduces students in grades 3 through 5 to the lives and deeds of national, state and local heroes, and asks them to identify and analyze the qualities of historical figures they consider to be heroes.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Ancient World
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Archaeology
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Ancient World (3500 BCE-500 CE)
  • History and Social Studies > World
  • Analysis
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing


Activity Worksheets