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TL v63n4: Developing Common Core Instructional Tools: the Winter Olympics
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Developing Common Core Instructional Tools: The Winter Olympics


D. Jackson Maxwell



With the recent adoption of Common Core Standards by 45 of 50 states (Common Core Standards Initiative, 2012), educators are scrambling to re-tool their curriculum, daily practices, and instructional materials. Librarians are in a unique position to provide critical support for teachers to successfully navigate this systemic methodological shift. For example, a key pillar of the Common Core strategic initiative is to dramatically increase the use of nonfiction texts throughout the curriculum. The reasoning is that nonfiction literature provides a multi-purposed approach to the acquisition of knowledge. Not only are students afforded the opportunity to improve literacy and comprehension skills, but at the same time they are introduced to factual concepts in hopes they will also acquire new subject specific knowledge. Thus by dual purposing the instructional approach, the rigor and student learning experience are magnified.   

Further, best practices mandate that educators utilize a variety of teaching tools and curricular strategies that engage every student based on their individual aptitudes and differing cognitive proclivities. Franklin & Stephens' (2009) analysis of recent research and literature supports these tenets, finding that educators need to think innovatively as they seek ways to increase efforts to collaborate with classroom teachers, diversify curricular offerings, provide services, and stay current with new technologies and trends in order to better serve all students. Jones & Maloy (1996) contend educators are uniquely qualified to develop learning opportunities that provide students access to a range of concepts (both traditional and nontraditional) within preset academic constructs. While Common Core standards state that all students are to be exposed to more nonfiction, the fact remains that not all children even value books or reading. Therefore, different approaches must be utilized to attract the interest of students whose natural inclinations do not include reading nonfiction literature or for that matter, reading at all. One such activity is the one described here; the subject matter helps compel both ready and reluctant readers to read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.3.4, 4.4, 5.4).

Games and literacy-based activities can be the catalyst that entices both reluctant readers and students whose reading interests lie outside the mandated, increasingly utilized nonfiction texts. Despite this fact, an underpinning belief of Common Core Standards is that nonfiction stories are essential instructional devices. Nonfiction literature is a valuable tool because it can provide information that learners desire or may need and thus, motivate them to read (Edmunds & Bauserman, 2006). When literature is tied to current events or high interest topics, additional buy-in can be elicited from students who normally would not value nonfiction reading. Thus, an event such as the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics that students will be following with parents and friends provides a high interest opportunity to engage these students.

Further, by combining literacy and gaming, children can be encouraged to take risks and challenge themselves. Gee’s (2003) study found that active learning experiences such as problem solving help students derive meaning from content area reading. Additionally, tying a current event such as a holiday or sporting spectacle to reading and literacy based activities heightens students’ desires to attempt the lesson’s objectives. The media attention leading up to the holiday or event further intensifies students’ curiosity, thus setting the stage for a teachable moment.

Finally, the following instructional tool offers educators an example of the type of Common Core literacy activity that is now expected of librarians and teachers. For example, the activities require students to utilize texts to draw inferences and answer explicit text dependent questions (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.1, 4.1, 5.1). Further rigor is added through requiring students to integrate two texts (one hardcopy and one online) as a part of the process of comparing and contrasting information in preparation for presenting their findings (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.9, 4.9, 5.9). With the increased Common Core emphasis, the article’s genre is purposefully nonfiction and by design requires students to utilize the tenets of Close Reading in order to correctly identify the key components of the text (Brown & Kappes, 2012). After discovering the key terms, the next activity purposefully platforms off of these via a word search game where the terminology is reinforced through playing the game. Throughout this Common Core learning experience, students are encouraged to reflect on the text and use information gleaned from the story to interactively engage in exercises that activate different cognitive responses to discover answers while acquiring new knowledge. While the presented instructional tool is designed for 3rd – 5th grade students, it can be used as a template for teachers of all grades and subject areas to develop similar topical learning experiences for their students.  

Winter Olympics Activity

See Appendix A for a printable pdf and Appendix B for answers.

Read the following story on your own and then explore the official International Olympic Committee’s website at Next, re-read the text with your group utilizing Close Reading strategies and discuss what you discovered including the author’s purpose.

Olympic History

The Olympics began in Greece in 776 B.C.E. with a single running race. From this humble beginning, greater events developed. The popularity of the Olympics grew and new competitions were added. Eventually, athletes throughout the Greek city-states gathered at Olympia every four years to compete in a variety of sporting events. Spectators cheered their fellow citizens and favorite athletes in feats of strength, speed, agility, and skill. Some of these included wrestling, jumping, throwing, boxing, and running. The ancient games came to an end in 393 A.D. when the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympics because he believed they were pagan in nature.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin started the modern Olympics in Greece in 1896. He believed that the games would foster friendship and peaceful competition between nations. A 100-meter sprint was the first event. Beginning in 1901, the Nordic Games were held in Sweden every four years. These proved popular and events such as figure skating were premiered at the 1908 Summer Olympics. However, it was not until 1924 that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hosted the First Winter Olympics.

The First Olympic Winter Games took place in Chamonix, France featuring 7 sports with 16 events in which medals were awarded. The Winter Olympics were held every four years except during World War II. Between 1992 and 1994, the Summer and Winter Olympics were separated where each would alternately occur every two years.

The Olympics since 1936 have had a torch lighting ceremony where a torch is lit in Olympia, Greece, and carried by relay runners to the destination of the games. The Olympic symbol is five connecting circles of different colors representing continents that participated in the early games. There have been many notable moments and athletes in the Winter Olympics. For example, Norway thrilled attendees by sweeping the ski jump in 1932 winning all of the medals. Dick Button in 1948 became the first Olympic figure skater to complete a double Axel and the first American to win a figure skating title. Jean-Claude Killy of France won three gold medals in the Alpine to become the star of the 1968 Winter Olympics. In 1980, the United States gold medal performance in winning Ice Hockey is considered one of the greatest sports upsets. A highlight in 1984 was Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean of Great Britain earning 12 perfect scores in Ice Dancing. What will the next great Winter Olympic moment be?

The excitement for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is building. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for February 7, 2014. Both children and adults are looking forward to seeing athletes compete in 98 events in 15 winter sports. The XXII Olympic Winter Games, as the IOC officially calls them, will end on February 23, 2014. From their modest Greek beginnings nearly 3000 years ago to their modern re-emergence, the Olympics have succeeded in getting different people and nations together for friendly competition. The 2014 Winter Olympics will once again ignite the international competitive spirit as men and women strive to earn medals as the best in their fields and to bring glory to their countries.

The Game:

Listed below are 10 keywords from the Winter Olympics story. The first letter of each word is revealed. Discover the rest of the word by using Close Reading strategies with the text and website. After identifying each word, locate these terms in the word search. As a bonus, there are ten additional terms from the Olympics article hidden in the word search. Award yourself a point for each word you identify and find in the word search. For ten points, you have achieved a bronze medal. For 20 words about the Winter Olympics you earn a silver medal. For a gold medal, locate all 20 words plus research and answer each of the following questions posed about the Winter Olympics.

1.     G_ _ _ _ _                                                           
Find this place on a globe and identify the continent where it is located. Name 3 other countries that currently exist on this continent.


2.     T_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _                                   
What impact did this ruler have on the Olympic Games?


3.     P_ _ _ _                                                   
Research the meaning of this word and write down two antonyms.


4.     O_ _ _ _ _ _                                                       
Using an atlas, describe where this place is located and its surrounding topography.


5.     B_ _ _ _   C_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _                                  
In your own words, explain the importance of this person in the context of the modern Olympics.


6.     J_ _ _ -C_ _ _ _ _  K_ _ _ _
Write a biographical sketch on this athlete’s accomplishments as they pertain to the Olympics.


7.     T_ _ _ _                                                  
Search online and write a brief explanation of the significance of this Olympic symbol.


8.     F_ _ _ _ _   S_ _ _ _ _ _
What do first place winners of this Olympic sport receive when they stand on the podium? How about the second and third place finishers?           


9.    D_ _ _   B_ _ _ _ _
Briefly explain how the answers to questions 8 and 9 are interconnected.


10.  W_ _ _ _ _    O_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Using the knowledge you acquired from this activity, analyze what you learned and write a summary describing your newly acquired knowledge.


                                                Olympics Word Search


               Y Y S P V G A Y P L Y C D N S 
               M L G N G A O I A A H J I O C 
               G G L K O T N D P A G T G R I 
               Y N Q I P W E C M M R A T D P 
               E I I E K M B O O E Y H N I M 
               K I H C D E N O B U E L E C Y 
               C K T L N I D U A O V C O G L 
               O S O Y X A O U D R E E L A O 
               H G R R H C D O A E D U R M R 
               E I C D N N S E R L G I R E E 
               C P H O F I W G C E C P N S T 
               I L R D U S O C H I L N R G N 
               F A T S G G N I L R U C A Z I 
               B N O T T U B K C I D Q V E W 
               U F I G U R E S K A T I N G J 


Bonus Words:  

1._________________; 2._________________; 3._________________; 4._________________; 5._________________; 6._________________; 7._________________; 8._________________; 9._________________; 10._________________


The integration of Common Core standards into the curriculum is now an expectation. That stated, students who struggle with academics often find success in other endeavors that present a different challenge such as games or sports. By connecting high interest events like the Olympics to classroom learning, teachers encourage students who are interested in physical exertions to take a chance on more cerebral exercises. The Winter Olympics article and accompanying game provide an example for connecting Common Core tenets to intriguing literacy activities. The activity will help prepare students to independently and proficiently read and comprehend complex cross-curricular, informational texts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.10, 4.10, 5.10).

As librarians, we are ideally situated to create academic activities for use in any educational setting. Our training as information specialists provides the flexibility and skills needed to develop instructional tools to meet the ever evolving educational methodologies. This includes projects for students working cooperatively or independently, thematically or subject based, and remedial or complex higher order instruction. These multi-purposed instructional tools challenge learners of all ages and abilities at their cognitive and intellectual levels. Beyond merely encouraging literacy, by engaging students in more Common Core stipulated nonfiction based instruction, educators can familiarize learners with historical, social, and cultural concepts that may be unfamiliar to them (Hirsch, 2003). Working with fellow educators, librarians can further mandated federal, state and local academic goals by introducing researching techniques and developing timely innovative, subject specific instructional tools to address high interest topics such as the Winter Olympics.


Brown, S., & Kappes, L. (2012). Implementing the Common Core state standards: A primer on “Close reading of text.” Education & Society Program. Washington, D.C.: Aspen Institute.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2012). Common standards and adoption by state. [].

Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivations through conversations. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 414-424.

Franklin, P., & Stephens, C. G. (2009). Equitable access, the digital divide, and the participation gap! School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(5), 43-44.

Gee, J. P. (2003). Opportunity to learn: A language-based perspective on assessment. Assessment in Education, 10(1), 27-46.

Hirsch, E. D. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge -- of words and the world. American Educator, 27(1), 10-13,16-23, 28-29.

Jones, B. L., & Maloy, R. W. (1996). Schools for an information age: Reconstructing foundations for learning and teaching. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Appendix A. Printable Activity

Winter Olympic History (pdf)

Appendix B. Answer Key

Answer Key:
1. Greece; 2. Theodosius; 3. Pagan; 4. Olympia; 5. Baron Coubertin; 6. Jean-Claude Killy; 7. Torch; 8. Figure Skating;  9. Dick Button; 10. Winter Olympics; Additional terms hidden in the word search: 11. Chamonix; 12. Ice Hockey; 13. Nordic Games; 14. Ice Dancing; 15. Gold Medal; 16. Curling; 17. Vancouver; 18. Skiing; 19. Luge; 20. Snowboarding


Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher and the Library Media Specialist at Grahamwood Elementary Optional School in Memphis, TN. He can be reached at


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