Rio Olympics: a conversation lesson

I had been thinking of having a lesson about the Rio Olympics for a little while. Last week my friends Cristina Serafim and Cecilia Nobre both shared the same article on Facebook describing the situation in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the games. I saw that as a sign that the time had come.

The article shows some of the negative aspects of the games, so I thought it would be a good idea to contrast it with a video showing some of the positives. This lesson is appropriate for both adults and adolescents, even if they are not into sports.

Start by showing students a photo of Rio de Janeiro and eliciting where it’s from (if you are teaching in Rio, though, you’ll need a different lead-in).

The photo below was taken by my very talented friend Bruno Cruz. You can check his online portfolio here.

Welcome to Brazil.jpg

After establishing you are going to talk about Rio de Janeiro, ask students to discuss these questions:

  • Have you ever been to Rio de Janeiro? How did you like it?

  • How much do you know about the city?

Students are likely to say things like the city is beautiful but dangerous. If the Olympic games don’t come up, ask them about the next big event that is going to happen in Rio and get them to answer the next question either in pairs again or small groups.

  • Would you like to go to Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games? Why or why not?

Give students a few minutes to put their ideas forward and elicit answers from the groups.

Now tell students they are going to watch a video from an American TV channel on the Olympic games. Ask students if they think the content is going to be positive or negative.

[EDIT: Thanks to Elisangela and Christopher who have told me NBC has blocked the video to Brazilian viewers. I’m going to try to find a different one to replace this, but my dear friend Eduardo has some good video options on his blog. Check it out here.]

The video is a little long, so I recommend breaking it down. Watch the first minute and give students a gist question for them to check their predictions:

  • Is the overall tone of the video positive or negative?

After that, watch the rest of the video and give them specific information questions:

  • What do the athletes say about coming to the Rio Olympics?
  • Where are the main venues located?
  • Where are the opening and closing ceremonies going to take place?
  • Which sports are going to be played in Rio after a long hiatus?

Allow students to compare their answers in pairs and then check with the whole group. Ask them if it’s surprising that the tone of the video is positive.

Tell students they are going to read an article on the same topic from Bloomberg’s website. As a gist task, give them 30 seconds to look at the text and decide if the tone is positive or negative.

Discuss answers with the whole group and give them more time to finish reading the article to answer these questions:

  • What were the expectations for the games in 2009? Are they different now?
  • Are tourists likely to notice Rio’s problems?
  • What does Rodrigo da Silva think about the games?
  • What does Leonardo Spindola think of his job?

The original article can be found here and my adapted version is below.

Welcome to Brazil – Please don’t Mind the Mess (Bloomberg)

After checking the answers with the whole group, get students together in trios to answer these follow-up questions:

  • In what ways are the video and the text showing a different side of the Olympics?
  • Do you think the Bloomberg article’s portrayal of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil is fair?
  • Would Rio de Janeiro be better off without the Olympics? Why?

If you think students need more information about the problems in Rio, you can watch this video from CNN’s correspondent Nick Payton Walsh. Ask students to compare the information he brings up with what they read in the text

Alternatively, you can go back to the text and work with the vocabulary that appears in bold.

a bust (In informal American English this means ‘a failure’. You can check the definition at the Urban Dictionary.)


be thriving

an eyesore

a kickback

the outset

Either give students definitions for them to match or ask them to guess the meaning of the words/expressions in pairs (which works better with higher levels). Either way, concept check the expressions before moving on to practice exercises. You could also focus on the fact that compound nouns like ‘eyesore’, ‘kickback’ and ‘outset’ are usually stressed on the first syllable.

For some contextualized practice, you could get students to discuss the questions below.

  • Did you know from the outset that the Olympics in Rio would face so many problems?
  • Do you think the Olympics are going to be a bust? Why (not)?
  • What kinds of business are thriving in the city where you live?
  • What places in your city are eyesores?
  • Do you have a state-of-the-art mobile phone? Are they worth the cost?
  • Do you think every politician takes kickbacks? Why?

Thanks for reading

3 thoughts on “Rio Olympics: a conversation lesson

  1. Dear Ricardo, I’ve just started browsing your blog and I’m loving it. I just wanted to let you know that the video mentioned above is not available in Brazil any more. 😦


  2. Pingback: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish | ricardo barros elt

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