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Jim Thorpe : The Greatest Athlete of the Century!
Equipment & Supplies
  • Paper for letters or pamphlets Glue Tape Scissors

Day 1

Before Reading (Approximately 15 minutes)

1. Ask students the following questions to promote discussion:

• What makes a great athlete? (Encourage students to think in many different terms of an athlete beyond just physical prowess. For example - drive, determination, heart, ability to come back after defeat, intelligence, work ethic)

• Name a great athlete you know. (Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger, Mohammad Ali, Michele Kwan, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan…Entertain a number of student responses and be open to varying responses. It could even be a family member or a friend as well. They could even name themselves.)

• Who would you say is the greatest athlete in the world? Write answers on the board.

2. Review with students the concept of amateur versus professional in terms of athletes. (According to Webster's New World Dictionary an amateur is a person who participates in a sport for pleasure rather than for money. A professional is someone who earns a living from an activity such as a sport.)

3. Discuss briefly the Olympics and how winners are honored. Share photograph of Jim Thorpe and the King of Sweden. It is important to note to students that today professional athletes are allowed to participate in the Olympics and have been since 1992, but for many years before that only amateurs were allowed to participate. Winners today are honored with gold, silver, and bronze medals. In this image Jim Thorpe shakes hands with the King of Sweden and will be honored with a laurel wreath, two gold medals, as well as two challenge trophies–the Bust of the King of Sweden and a Viking Ship donated by the czar of Russia.

4. Have students complete Student Worksheet 1 – Reading Anticipation Guide before reading. This Anticipation Guide is not intended to test students" background knowledge. Instead, it is to promote comprehension by allowing students to interact with important concepts with the reading. Tell students that it is not a graded quiz and that after the reading they will be allowed to change their answers.

5. Discuss these vocabulary words found in Student Handout 1-The Jim Thorpe Story:

Decathlon -an athletic contest in which the contestant takes part in ten (deca) events. [100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, long jump, 16-pound shot put, high jump, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1500-meter run.] The winner receives the highest total points.
Pentathlon–an athletic contest in which the contestant takes part in five (penta) events. The winner receives the highest total points.
ancestry -family from the past (ancestors), origins
reservation - public land set aside for Indians to live on
amateur - someone who participates in sports without being paid
assimilated - to absorb (immigrants or a culturally distinct group) into the prevailing culture

Reading (Approximately 10 minutes)

1. As a class read Student Handout 1-The Jim Thorpe Story.

Exploring the Evidence (Approximately 20 minutes)

1. Explain to students that they are now going to examine some primary resources of Jim Thorpe's career. Ask students if they know what a primary resource is. (A primary resource is an original item or record that has survived from the past, such as clothing, letters, photographs, and manuscripts. It was a part of a direct personal experience of a time or event. –Library of Congress.)

2. Have the class divide into small groups. Each student should have:

(1) Student Handout 2-Two Views of Jim Thorpe – a Fort Wayne newspaper article from February 1913
(2) Student Handout 3-Two Views of Jim Thorpe-Transcription –Transcription of the above article for easy reading
(3) Student Handout 4–Letter from Jim Thorpe to Mr. Sullivan
(4) Student Handout 5-Jim Thorpe Photographs.
(5) Student Worksheet 2–Analyzing Primary Resources

Students should complete Student Worksheet 2 while in groups. (Note to teacher -There are two one-page documents to read, two pages to visually interpret, and 10 questions to be answered in a twenty-minute time-period. To make this feasible, you may wish to divide the documents up within each small group. Supposing you have small groups of four individuals, it is recommended two students work on Student Handout 2 and 3–as this article has the most advanced level reading and five related worksheet questions– one on Student Handout 4, and one on Student Handout 5. Have individuals share responses with their group before reconvening the class.)

3. As a whole class, discuss why Jim Thorpe is considered an amazing athlete. (He was a 2- time gold medal winner. He was successful at many different sports. He had natural talent.)

4. Discuss whether the students feel it was fair that he lost his medals. (Some may say that it was fair because he did play professional baseball and that was against the rules. Some could argue that it was not fair because Jim Thorpe did not have a long professional career and he only played in the minor leagues. It is important to note that many other athletes were guilty of breaking this rule, but they played professional sports under different names. Does this make your students feel any differently? )

After Reading (Approximately 10 minutes)

1. Have students go back over their Reading Anticipation Guide and change any answers if necessary.

2. Discuss as a class how Jim Thorpe compares with the athletes listed on the board from the beginning of the lesson. Put a check mark beside the qualities that Jim Thorpe has.

3. Set the stage for the second part of the lesson -
Jim Thorpe's daughter is petitioning to have her father named America's Greatest All Around Athlete of the Century by the United States Government, and she would like a resolution submitted to the House of Representatives. She is asking that you work as lobbyists. She has asked that you work as a team to create a persuasive tri-fold brochure or letter describing her father's life and accomplishments and persuading your U.S. Representative that Jim Thorpe is The Greatest All Around Athlete of the Century.
(You should explain to students that Grace Thorpe was successful in having a resolution proposed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, both resolutions made it to the floor, but never passed. They were stuck in committees and sub-committees and died after two years. Those resolutions can be seen at Congress Designates Jim Thorpes as Athlete of the Century at Because the resolutions died, Grace Thorpe needs to start the process all over again.)

4. For homework, ask students to review the information they have learned about Jim Thorpe today and create a résumé of his career highlights. Disseminate Student Worksheet 3-Jim Thorpe's Résumé for homework directions. This assignment will help students be well-prepared for Day 2.

Day 2

1. Remind students that today they are going to be a lobbyist for Grace Thorpe. They are going to create a brochure or letter that convinces their Representative to submit a resolution which would recognize Jim Thorpe as "The Greatest Athlete of the Century."

2. First, review with students some important concepts in the passing of laws in America.
• What are the two houses that help make up our laws in the legislative branch? - The House of Representative and the Senate.
• How would Jim Thorpe be officially recognized by the United States government? - A resolution would have to be submitted by a Congressman.
• How do you get members of Congress to listen to your ideas? - You lobby for your cause.
• How do you lobby your Representative or Senator? (Students can come up with ideas such as phone calling, emailing, letter writing, or presenting facts to the Congressman.)
• Who is your representative? (Students can go to Project Vote Smart at and put in their zip code to find their current representative.)

3. Have students get out their homework of creating Jim Thorpe's résumé and call on students to share some of the achievements they listed.

4. Divide students into design teams of 3 students. Allow them to choose whether they would prefer to create a brochure or write a persuasive letter that included pictures. Go over the criteria for evaluating the tri-fold brochure or letter by sharing the rubric:

• It must be persuasive in nature.
• It must include biographical information, actual photographs of Thorpe, important highlights of his sports career, and information about his Olympic ordeal.
• It must be organized and neat as well as grammatically correct.

5. Allow students time to work on their pamphlet or their letter.

6. After completing pamphlets, give students time to share their pamphlet with the class. This can also be done the following day if time is short.

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