Hands-on English current events activity for February, 1998

Latest update: February 15, 1998

Note: You are welcome to print, copy and use this activity with your students. However, this material is copyrighted, so please don't re-publish it anywhere without permission.

Reading/Vocabulary/Writing activity:

Olympics--Trying hard to win

To the instructor:
Since I am not really a sports fan myself, you may wonder why I chose this topic for an ESL activity. There are two reasons I think the Olympic events make good material for your students. First of all, I have found that ESL students, no matter what their age, gender or nationality, often follow the Olympics with interest and enthusiasm. Perhaps this is because, being far away from home, it is heartwarming to see one's own countrymen and women in the international spotlight! Anyway, it is usually a topic the students will enjoy working on.
The other reason is that Olympic sports bring into public discussion the difficult process of working hard to achieve something. Too often when we hear about achievements in the news (Nobel prizes, literary awards, business success) we hear only about the results and nothing about what went into achieving those results. Because of the current trend in TV coverage of the Olympics (at least in the US), we are treated to many personal stories about the obstacles individual athletes had to overcome. These stories can be inspiring to anyone who is trying to accomplish something--like our students who are trying to learn English.

What's here:
First there is a fairly long text (six paragraphs) about what it takes to be an Olympic athlete, which is suitable for intermediate or advanced students. (If you have low intermediates or high beginners, you might also be able to use this material, if you present it to them orally first with plenty of explanation and examples as you go.)
After that is a vocabulary matching exercise, to help the students practice some of the new vocabulary. For even more advanced students, I have included a list of additional vocabulary which might be useful in further discussion of this topic. For another vocabulary review, try our crossword puzzle using the same new words the students learned in the reading.
Finally there are two good writing topics, which your students might be able to do as homework, or which you could work on in class.
Happy teaching! --the Editor


Reading text:

Olympics--Trying hard to win

What does an athlete have to do to succeed in the Olympics? It's not easy. An athlete has to have dedication. That means you have to work very hard for a long time--maybe for many years. A good athlete has to practice every day. This means doing some exercises every day and thinking about the sport a lot. The athlete also has to have some good advice about how to prepare for the sport. You need good coaching from someone who is an expert.

An athlete also has to study the sport very carefully, so that he (or she) knows how to do it very well. For example, it takes a lot of skill to do a triple or a quadruple jump in figure skating. And an athlete has to be a special person who not only knows the sport very well, but also is not afraid to try. It takes courage to try to win.

To play a sport well, an athlete has to have good, powerful muscles. This strength is very important. For example, in the downhill slalom event the skier needs to have very strong legs. In many sports, the athlete has to be strong for a very long time, also. If you have stamina, you can keep going for a long time. For example, in cross-country skiing and the biathlon, the athletes have to go fast for many hours. They need stamina to win.

In some sports, like speed skating, going very fast is important. The athlete with the most speed will win. In other sports, how the event looks is also very important. For example in figure skating, the winner has to have strength, skill and speed, but a good presentation is also important. If the skating is beautiful it will win higher marks.

During the competition, the athlete has to have good concentration. You have to think hard about what you are doing and not listen to all the noise from the crowd. You have to focus on the job you are doing. This is important in all the sports.

A good athlete has skill, dedication and courage. But you should also be a good person who is fair to the other players in the game. Good sportsmanship doesn't always help you to win, but people respect an athlete who is fair. During the games there is one more thing every athlete needs--some luck. If the weather is good, if the athlete is not sick, if the other players make a mistake, this can also help you to win.


Vocabulary matching exercise

(Match each of the 12 words in group A with the correct meanings in group B.)

Group A:

Group B:
good or bad things that happen
doing some exercises every day
thinking hard about what you are doing
good advice about how to prepare
having powerful muscles
how something looks
working hard because you want to succeed
knowing how to do something very well
strength to keep going for a long time
being fair to the other players
going fast
not being afraid to try

Additional vocabulary:
For more advanced students, here are some other qualities that might come up in a discussion of this topic:
ability--natural talent to do something well
ambition--desire to reach a high goal
balance--staying in position; not falling
determination--strong will to succeed
endurance--strength to continue even if you are tired or in pain
imagination, creativity--having interesting ideas
persistence--continuing to try; not giving up
teamwork--working well with other players
training--all of your preparation (practice, study, coaching)

(Note: What is the difference between determination and persistence? Both are about not giving up, but I think that determination is a mental state where you have decided not to give up, such as determination to win the gold. Persistence is a physical action, like trying a jump over and over until you get it, for example. Dedication also means working hard at something but this is usually for a higher cause, like dedication to the sport of figure skating.)


Crossword puzzle!

We've made a crossword puzzle for your students with the vocabulary from the above reading. You might want to offer it in your next class session, as a way of reviewing this lesson. It's a little more challenging than the matching exercise. Click here to see the puzzle!


Writing activity

Have your students refer to the story above, or the vocabulary list, as a helpful guide when writing these assignments:

1. Choose one athlete that you know something about. What does he or she have to do to prepare? How well did this athlete do in these Olympics? Why?

2. Are you trying hard to succeed at something? Explain your goal, and what you have to do to succeed.

Editor's note: I'd be very interested to hear what you and your students thought of this activity! Thank you! We welcome teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman.


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