Recommended age group: 5–14
Time required: one 45–60 minute session
Equipment: images from previous Games, paints, coloured tissue paper etc., cardboard tubes.


Human beings have always found different ways of telling and recording important stories; in cave paintings, frescoes, on pottery, wall hangings, wood carvings and so on. They often incorporated the feelings and values of groups and communities, offering a personal insight into people's experiences. The Native American tribes of the northwest coast of America and Canada, for example, created totem poles to record their history and pass on stories to their children. The totem poles told stories of great deeds and legendary achievements – educating and inspiring future generations.

Why not have a go at creating totem poles with your students to record amazing stories and achievements from the Olympic and Paralympic Games, or any other sporting event the students are interested in and which reflect the Olympic and Paralympic Values? As a totem pole is usually constructed in roughly six or seven sections, it is a great way to work collaboratively as a whole class or in groups.

If you prefer, you can adapt this idea to create a different kind of collaborative art installation, for example:

  • making an Olympic and Paralympic Values/ Games wall – either as a display or in 3D, for example, using cardboard boxes
  • printing on fabric to create a wall hanging for the school hall or a community building
  • making a set of Values tiles or a mosaic from clay and assembling into a large floor/wall tile
  • creating a modern storytelling installation through comic/cartoon art.

The activity sheets provided will help students to record initial ideas for their stories, reflect on the Values, and identify the most appropriate materials to use for their chosen style of artwork.

Values links

As this is a collaborative art installation, students should work in groups of six or seven, with each group member taking responsibility for one section of the whole. There are numerous ways that students could approach the content of each section and link their work with the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Values.

  • Create sections by event or discipline e.g. Cycling, Swimming or Wheelchair Tennis.
  • Portray different sporting events on each section e.g. London 2012, Sochi 2014, Rio 2016, PyeongChang 2018, The Youth Games, your own school's participation in a local sports festival etc.
  • Create a section for each of the Olympic and Paralympic Values.
  • Create sections for different teams and competitors, with appropriate statistics and results, perhaps the top six countries in the medal table.
  • Have sections portraying the volunteer Games Makers, officials, coaches and ground staff without whom London 2012 – and other huge sporting events – wouldn't happen.
  • Use achievements and events from your school or wider community, inspired by great sporting events and celebrations.

Research tasks

Once groups have agreed on their artwork style and content, students will need to explore the origins of their chosen media. For example:

  • Look at a variety of images of totem poles – or other chosen media, such as wall hangings or murals.
  • Explore the different symbolic meanings represented in their chosen media.
  • Find out about the tools, materials and techniques used to construct and decorate it.
  • Learn about the way iconic works of art were positioned traditionally, for example, a totem pole in a doorway to the home represented the success of that family.

Stories under construction

The students' artwork can be constructed in a variety of materials and can be as large or small, and as simple or complex as required.

Use the Planning your art installation and Choosing the right materials activity sheets to help the students plan and compile their ideas as a group, and explore a variety of different construction and decorative materials they could use.


Stories through art on display

Displaying one or more of your installations in a prominent place really is a great way to inspire the next generation. The school, Olympic or Paralympic Motto could be displayed at the top of the totem pole, for example, and become a real focal point of celebration and inspiration in your school or local community.

An outdoor installation will require more durable materials. Why not invite a guest wood carver or potter to work with the students and explore their more technical methods?