Olympic Games: a(nother) conversation lesson

If you live in Brazil, like I do, it seems that the Olympic Games is all everybody is talking about. Back in June, I posted a lesson based on this topic and it continues to be one of the most clicked posts on the blog after two months. Because of that, I’ve decided to post a new conversation lesson I used last Saturday, the day after the opening ceremony took place.

The idea behind this lesson is to explore two ideas: the first is that a picture is worth a thousand words and the other is that pictures can be deceiving. This was originally aimed at adult students, but could also be used with adolescents and young adults without making too many changes.

Start by showing students these pictures, and elicit where they come from.

Olympic games_1

Now ask students to discuss the following questions:

  • Did you watch the Olympic opening ceremony? What did you think of it?
  • Has the reaction from the media and the public been positive or negative? Why?

Give students some time and then elicit ideas from the whole group. The expected answer here is that Rio was praised for the ceremony.

As a follow-up, show students this picture taken by Serbian photographer Andrej Isakovic. It shows the view from Mangueira, a slum near Maracanã stadium.


In the same pairs or groups as before, get students to discuss these questions.

  • What does this image make you think of? Why (not)?
  • Does it change your opinion of the opening ceremony? Why (not)?

After a few minutes, open up the discussion to the whole group and elicit students’ opinions.

Now tell students you are going to show them another picture related to Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic games.

Olympic games_2

With new partners, ask students to answer this question. You’ll likely need to pre-teach conjure up, so elicit the meaning beforehand and clarify if necessary.

  • Does this picture conjure up positive or negative feelings? Why?

Students are likely to say this is a very beautiful place, and some may bring up the fact that it’s also polluted. Board their ideas and save them to be used as a gist task for the next activity.

Tell students they are going to watch parts of an American news report about the Guanabara Bay.

Play up to 2:04 and ask students to answer this question:

  • What does Mario Moscatelli say about the water?
  • What does the Chilean sailor say about the water?

Let students compare answers and then elicit ideas from the whole group.

Now tell students they are going to read a text about the same topic. The original text can be found here and my adapted version is below.

Sailors on Guanabara Bay (NYT)

Depending on the level of your students, it’s a good idea to pre-teach these words: sewage (which also appeared in the video), flotsam, debris, and dodging.

Show students the title and ask students to predict the content of the text. Board ideas and then give students 2 minutes to check if their ideas appear in the body of the text.

After checking, give students more time to read the text again and answer these questions.

  • Are organizers happy with how clean Guanabara bay is?
  • Are the flotsam and debris a surprise to sailors?
  • How are sailors preparing to fight the pollution?
  • How did Luke Ramsay become immune to the pollution?
  • What’s the most important thing according to Luke?

Give students a minute or two to compare their answers and then check with the whole group. As a follow-up, ask students if the agree with Luke’s opinion (that winning is more important than staying healthy).

You could also go back to the text and explore the vocabulary that appears in bold.


to stem (the waste)

to fall short (of your goals)

to grapple with

the fallout

to stock up on

a silver lining

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. Also, work with the catenation in ‘stock up on’ and ‘(fall) short of’.

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

  • Do you think the Olympic Games are going to fall short of expectations or are they going to be a success?
  • What are the possible fallouts or silver linings from the Olympic Games?
  • Do you think Brazil was able to stem the corruption when it comes to the money spent on the Olympic Games?
  • Do you usually stock up on a specific kind of food or drink if you are going to watch the Olympics on TV?
  • Have you had to grapple with any difficult situations at work recently?

Thanks for reading

[EDIT] Reader Rafael Gonzalez created a Prezi presentation based on this lesson. You can find it here.

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