Primary Literacy – The Paralympics

Whilst the Paralympics would seem to give us plenty of scope for activities in sport and in maths, there’s a lot of English work that can easily be drawn out of it, linking to other curriculum areas. In the following activities we’ll show you how to use the event for some thought provoking English.

Activity One – Overcoming adversity

LO: To be able to ask relevant questions to obtain information
To be able to plan an interview and take notes on the answers given

One of the overriding features of the Paralympics is the courage and motivation that athletes have had to enable them to avoid self-pity and to achieve a goal despite the adversity.

Many of us are faced with adversity in our lives and it’s the way we deal with it that defines us. In this activity the children develop interviewing techniques as well as gain an understanding into what it is like to be unable to compete on the same level as able bodied people.

The Organisation England Athletics supports disabled athletes in their sports and encourages local athletics clubs to do the same.

Invite a member of your local club to visit school and to tell the children their story. The children should prepare questions beforehand to ask the athlete and focus on the level of determination it took for them to be able to compete in their chosen sport.

Follow this up with a citizenship lesson on facing and overcoming adversity, not necessarily a physical one but maybe one in learning or in social situations.

Ask the children to talk about things they find difficult to do, perhaps a particular subject or a topic in the subject and find out from them what their response is to facing the problem. Ask them to write a short piece comparing the difficulty they face with that the athlete did and identify similarities and differences.
At Home: Can the children find examples from other fields where people have overcome great adversity to be successful – examples could include Helen Keller, Beethoven, Einstein or Franklin D Roosevelt.

Activity Two – Biography

LO: To be able to write for different purposes and audiences
To identify relevant information in research activities and make notes on it

There is often a tragic, yet ultimately heart-warming story behind the lives of disabled athletes. The website

lists some of the world’s greatest and best known disabled athletes and tells a little of their story.
Biography is a great writing skill to acquire and this activity helps the children to develop it.
Read the children the brief biographies given on the website and ask them to choose a disabled athlete that they want to find out more about. Use the internet to research key information in note form and ask them to write a biography of them.

Begin by reading a brief biography of a famous person to the children and ask them to tell you the features of the biography. They are likely to include that it’s chronological, deals with their family life to begin with then lists their achievements. It uses a lot of description but is still concise. It also uses no dialogue.
With younger classes you can use this template:

What is their name?

When and where were they born?

When and how did they become disabled?

How and when did they become interested in their sport?

What were the difficulties they faced?

How did they try to overcome them?

What successes have they had?

What are their hopes for the future?

Older children can still use the template as a guide, completing their writing as a passage rather than as a series of statements.

At Home: Ask the children to find out what the difference is between biography and autobiography and think of a way in which the two might differ in terms of how the subject is perceived.

Activity Three – Empathetic Poetry

LO: To be able to use the structure of a poem to help express the emotion of empathy
To be able to respond empathetically to expressed emotions

Empathy is a difficult emotion to develop but by listening to stories of someone’s life and experiences together with the opportunity to talk about it afterwards, you can help children to develop empathy. Use one of the biographies from a previous activity, either one of the athletes or one of the other famous people who overcame difficulties or disabilities.

Questions are important here and you should begin by asking the children to think of what they’d like to find out more detail of about the person. Encourage them to ask questions which use emotion words such as ‘How did you feel when…?’ ‘What did people think when…?’ or ‘Did you think you would ever…?’
These kinds of questions elicit responses which the children can take a position on, either they will feel sorry for the person, pleased that they overcame the problem, in awe of their determination or proud of their achievements.

Poetry can be a very expressive way of showing emotions and no less so than to display empathy.
Depending on the ability of the children you can start them at different stages of the process in this activity.
For the less able, give them a template where they need to make a response to a statement. e.g.

When I found out that I couldn’t walk…
When I found out I couldn’t run to play with my friends…
When I found I couldn’t see…

The responses could be in the simplest form as a verb such as ‘I cried’ or in a longer sentence.
More able children could use a template that allows for more detailed information such as…

When I see children running I..
When I hear children playing …
When a friend picks up a puppy …

The responses to these encourage a longer sentence with more emphasis on how they might feel if they can’t walk, don’t have functioning arms or can’t see.

Finally, the able poets in the class could really get to grips with feelings, either if it’s them in that position or if they see another with disabilities by starting their poem off with how they feel.

At Home: Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find words which convey feelings. Use them in the next English lesson to improve the verbs in your poem.

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