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Gateway to the Summer Games - Lesson Plans
Nationalism and the Olympics
Olympic Symbols and Meanings
  Grade Level: 6-8
Subject: Social Studies / Geography
Time needed: 4 X 45 min. sections
Lesson Overview

Pride in one's nation is important, but feelings of patriotism should not infringe on the rights of others.

Background Information

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin initiated the modern Olympic Games, he envisioned an international rivalry in sports that would promote worldwide unity in broader fields. In his words:

"Peace would be furthered by the Olympic Games... but peace could be the product only of a better world; a better world could be brought about only by individuals; and better individuals could be developed only by the give and take, the buffeting and battering, the stress and strain of...competition."

Ever since the first Modern Games in 1896, Pierre de Coubertin's beliefs have been contrasted with the elements of nationalism and patriotism, which have at times marred the Games. The ideal of Ekecheiria -- "The Sacred Truce" -- still survives as the hope of a world in which peace can endure, at least while the Olympic Games are played.


To help students understand how politics and nationalism have influenced the Olympic Games.


Video Segment #4: Olympic Symbols and their Meaning. Video available from Griffin Publishing Group at
(Note: While the video segment is a good addition to this lesson plan, it is not essential for successful completion of the activities.)
Student Reading: Nationalism and the Olympic Games
Student Activity Sheet #1: Making Your Own Plan
Student Activity Sheet #2: Listening to the Plans of Others
Student Activity Sheet #3: Creating a Compromise Solution
Video Review Questions: Olympic Symbols and Meaning


Suggested Lesson Plan:

Ask students to identify reasons why athletes dream of going to the Olympics and why students would want to go. Ask students to categorize the reasons: for themselves, for other people, for the nation.

Show Video Segment #4: Olympic Symbols and their Meaning, which focuses on the pride each winning athlete feels as he or she receives a medal and watches as his or her national flag is raised and anthem is played. Students may complete Video Review Questions during the viewing.


Ask students to evaluate the most important reasons nations have for wanting to participate in the Olympic Games.

  • Would students' answers be the same if they were from other countries? (For example, in 1984 Saudi Arabians were very proud of the fact that, for the first time ever, they had a soccer team in the Olympics. To show their enthusiasm, they placed large, full-color, double-page ads in many U.S. magazines, and bought TV time to tell about it. It was a matter of intense national pride.)
  • Would an athlete from a small country feel differently about competing in the Olympics than one from a large country?

Ask students to compare their answers to the last question with their feelings when, for example, an American athlete wins a gold medal and they watch him or her as "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played.

Discuss some of the problems that have arisen in the past from intense feelings of nationalism, and from use of the Games as a political tool, using Student Reading: Nationalism and the Olympic Games for help.

Divide students into small groups, and ask them to decide if nationalism is a problem in the Olympics. Discuss whether or not nations should use the Olympics as a forum to protest the actions of other nations.

Bring the class back together to share their lists, and then ask each group to choose one specific problem for the entire class to work on.

Ask students to brainstorm possible solutions to the problem, choosing the five solutions that seem to be:

  • the most effective
  • the most acceptable to the most people
  • the easiest to implement

Use Student Activity Sheet #1: Making Your Own Plan to chart answers.

Have students trade ideas with another group for evaluation, using Student Activity Sheet #2: Listening to the Plans of Others.

Once students have shared ideas, they should select one of their alternatives and prepare a presentation on that choice to convince their classmates that it is the best solution to the problem. Students can use Student Activity Sheet #3: Creating a Compromise Solution for this activity.

Student Products

Students will make formal presentations to the class, allowing other class members to ask questions and point out problems. The class will serve as the International Olympic Committee, and will either accept or reject the plans.

(c) 1996 By Griffin Publishing / United States Olympic Committee

Published by Griffin Publishing under license from the United States Olympic Committee. This publication is a creative work fully protected by all applicable rights. All rights reserved. A classroom teacher may reproduce copies of the material in this book for classroom use only.

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