Using stations/centers/rotations in PE class

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A popular day in my PE class is when we do “PE centers” (or rotation stations).  As many classroom teachers use centers as a way to teach small groups, the students are familiar with rotating through different stations and like seeing it in a PE setting.  And they love the variety.  I find it a good way to mix in favorites with something new or a skill I want to work on.

Here is an example of how I used centers this week with my first and second grade classes:

We have been working on the skill of dribbling a ball, as well as bouncing and catching.  I had taught lessons the previous 2 weeks focusing on these skills.  Today I began class by teaching them the game of straddle ball.  I let them play the game for about 5 minutes with the class divided into 3 groups.  While they were playing I set up 3 stations.  Our 3 centers were:

  1. Dribbling practice
  2. Straddle ball
  3. Shooting

For station one I threw down about 12 poly spots.  Students had to stand on a spot and dribble 10 times, then move to another spot and repeat.  When they hit 100 dribbles they come and give me a high five and then try to get to 200, etc.   We had played this game the week before so they were familiar with it and needed no explanation.  This was the station where I focused my time to help those that were still struggling with dribbling with one hand only.

Station 2 was just continuing the game I had just taught.  They were loving that game so it gave them more time to play, but also broke things up to keep it from getting too wild (as games often do if they go too long).

Station 3 was very informal.  I set up two small, portable, shorter hoops that I have in the same area and the standard level wall mount hoop.  I gave no formal instruction and just let them experiment.  My students are always begging to use my small hoops so it gave them that opportunity.

I played music and stopped it when it was time to rotate stations.  I was able to focus on the dribbling skill with a small number of students.  They always love it when we do centers.   I use them with all grade levels periodically with as few as 3 centers and as many as 12.  Usually it is a formal rotation as I’ve described, but I also sometimes let them choose and move through stations at their own pace.

Kindergarten and spatial awareness

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One of my main objectives with my kindergarten classes is to teach them spatial awareness and control.  We do a lot of games that have them moving around the gym in random patterns trying to keep them from “popping bubbles”.  Today while we were playing I told them that if the popped someone’s bubble (ran into someone)  they had to come to a certain location and sit for 5 seconds and then rejoin the game.  I couldn’t believe how well it worked!  They all tried so much harder to stay in their own space.  Their concentration was adorable.  They were also very honest about sitting out for the 5 seconds when contact occured.  Give this idea a try with any of your younger grades!

Muscle mini lesson

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This year in PE we are focusing on a different muscle every month.  Since I don’t want to spend any movement time having my students sit and listen, I talk about our muscle as we do our stretches.  Here is an example of a mini lesson I did this week focusing on the calf muscle.

Introduction:  We are starting a new month today so that means we have a new muscle to learn.  What was our muscle last month? (quadricep)  Where is the quadricep? This month we are going to learn about the calf.  When I stand on tip toes you will be able to see my calf muscle.  Stand in front of the group flat footed, and then go to tip toe.  Did you see the calf muscle engage?

Activity:  Everyone stand up right where you are and try standing on your tip toes.  Do you feel you muscle engaging.  Can you see the outline of your calf muscle.

Activity:  Teach a stretch for the calf muscle:  Take a big step back.  Make sure both toes point forward with your body.  Push your back heel to the ground.  Bend your back knee a little if you need to to feel the stretch.  I walk around and correct form.  Talk about the need to keep toes pointing forward to actually stretch the right muscle since this is a common mistake in form I see with my students.

Activity:  Ask for suggestions of motions that use the calf muscle and do some of them such as running or jumping rope.

As the month goes on, we will repeat our calf stretch every class period and emphasize movement activities that engage the calf muscle.

My students are loving this.  They were actually the ones who reminded me that it was a new month and asked what our new muscle would be!

Fire and Ice Tag game

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My first and second graders love tag games.  This is a fun spin on frozen tag.

4-5 blue yarn balls

3 red yarn balls

The blue yarn balls represent “ice”.  Students with ice are “it” and try and tag others.  If you are tagged by ice you must freeze.  I have them put their arms up so everyone can tell they are frozen.  The red balls represent “fire”.  Students with fire try and save frozen students by unthawing the ice (tagging with red ball).  Stop the game every 3-4 minutes and trade out who is playing fire and ice.

Visual aids for PE

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I am working this year to add some science into my PE classes so I decided to focus on learning the names of major muscle groups.  I made this fun bulletin board to add interest and add a fun visual image to my gym.  As you can see, we are going to focus on a muscle group each month.  As the school year moves along, I will add more labels to my HULK visual.  This popular character not only catches the attention of my young students, but his bulk makes the muscle groups easy to see.  I also showed my students a realistic photo of the muscular system inside a human body as I taught a mini lesson on muscles.  When we do our warm-up session, I focus on some stretches and activities that use the quadricep and talk as we stretch.  It has been a fun way to introduce some vocabulary.

organizing teams

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I teach over 800 students every week, 30 minute classes, about 30 students per class.  I need efficient ways to divide my students into different size groups for different activities.  Sometimes I want like abilities together  and sometimes I like to mix skill levels.  Here are a couple ideas I use to divide classes up into teams:

1.  Play music and have the students just walk or dance around the room.  When the music stops they stand toe to toe with # (designate size of group by holding up number of fingers) of people.  I sometimes add restrictions such as wearing the same color, #boys#girls, etc.  Sometimes I repeat 2 or 3 times, telling them each time that they can’t have someone in their group who was in it the last round (good way to mix up friends)

2.  For outside, as the class arrives I give them a fitness task to complete.  As each child finishes I hand them a jersey to put on.  I have all my colors out and pre-counted so that as I hand them a jersey, I can mix up who is wearing what color.  Since my most athletic kids tend to finish the fitness task first, I can give each one a new color and have them evenly distributed.  Same idea with my slow students.  I end up with teams evenly divided and marked.  I sometimes have them do an activity with a partner wearing a different color jersey to keep them guessing!

These are my favorite and easiest team divisors.  How do you divide classes?

Builders and bulldozers

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This is a commonly played game with many different names, including “wreck-it-ralph”.  If you haven’t tried it, the game is very active and always a favorite with my littlest students.

Set-up cones and/or bowling pins randomly around the play space.  Assign about one-third of the class to be “bulldozers”.  The bulldozers run around and knock over the pins.  They may only use one hand and no kicking is allowed.  The rest of the class play the “builders”.  The builders set up the cones knocked over by the bulldozers.  I use fun music as a start/stop signal.  Play several short rounds trading the builders and bulldozers every time.  They all love being the bulldozers!

My classes love this game!  It really gets the heart rate up too!  My dislike is the amount of equipment for just a short game.  You need a lot of cones/pins.  I usually tie it with another activity where we already have those items out.  Have each student grab one or two pins and set them somewhere on the floor to make set-up easy.

Sharks and Lifeguards

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Sharks and Lifeguards is a classic parachute game.  I have been hesitant to play it in the past due to the potential roughness of the game.  I decided to give it a try this year with some added caution.  It was very successful and a favorite for my students.

Students sit in a circle around the parachute with their legs straight out in front of them.  Their legs are underneath the parachute.  A few students (I started with 3) are “sharks” and swim underneath the parachute. The sharks try and pull beach dwellers under the chute by grabbing their legs.  A few students (equal in number to starting sharks) are “lifeguards”.  The lifeguards circle the parachute on foot and rescue those being pulled under.  I instructed my students that if they felt themselves being pulled under, they must let go of the parachute and raise both hands and call to a lifeguard for help.  They cannot kick at the shark or hold on to anything, but they can try to scoot away and get extra help from the lifeguards.   The lifeguards help by grabbing the victim’s arms and pulling.  Once a player is pulled under, they become a shark.  If they are saved, they stay in position with legs under the chute.  As the game goes on more and more players become sharks.  When 90% of the group is under the chute, I blow my whistle for everyone to come out and we start a new round.

Safety tips:

Play outside on the grass versus inside on a hard gym floor

Instruct sharks that they may initially only grab one leg — this way the person being pulled will not get yanked too hard and bump their head on the ground

Have those sitting around the parachute wave it up and down slightly to keep air moving underneath — it gets hot under there!


I played the game with 2nd thru 5th grade and they all had a blast!

Scoops and Balls

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We have some fun new equipment at our school this year:  plastic scoops and wiffle balls.  I used the equipment in two separate lessons with my youngest classes.

Lesson 1:

Each person has a scoop and their own ball.  I start by having them roll the ball on the floor and try and scoop it up without using their hands.  I demonstrate that they need to scoop the opposite direction from where the ball is rolling.  That way it rolls into their scoop.  Next we toss the ball out of our scoop, let it bounce once or twice on the floor and then catch.  For those that get comfortable with that, I show them how to toss, spin around, and then catch off the 2nd or 3rd bounce.  Finally, we move into tossing and catching without a bounce.  We start with low tosses (head high), then move to medium (high as you can reach), and then high tosses.  This lesson works best indoors on a gym floor.

Lesson 2:

This lesson moves the students into using the scoops and balls with a partner.  I start by having them all choose a scoop.  Then I have them find a partner that has a different color scoop (good way to mix them up!).  You can then move the students through a sequence of activities.  Vary your sequence depending on time, ability, and interest.

1. roll the ball to your partner — scoop it up without using hands

2.  low toss the ball to your partner; if you catch it take a baby step farther away and try again

3.  repeat #2 with higher tosses

4.  stand back to back with your partner, each take a giant step away from each other, the partner without the ball turns and faces their partner’s back, the partner with the ball tosses the ball over head for their partner to catch

5.  try jogging slowly and tossing the ball back and forth

I did this lesson outside on the grass.  My students especially like #4.  Fun for a spring day!

“UNO” warm-up game

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I pulled out an old set of “UNO” cards this week and used them for a quick and easy warm-up with my K, 1, and 2 classes.

Give each child an UNO card.  Assign each color a locomotor movement.  For example:


green = slither like a snake


blue=swim (arm motion)

wild=your choice

Start some fun music and the children perform the locomotor movement associated with their card.  When the music stops, they must trade cards with someone.  Repeat about every 30 seconds.  Not only was this a good warm-up, but a chance for me to assess locomotor skills.  I focused on the skip and watched those students only.  If someone was having a hard time with it, I could step in and help them out and the rest of the class was still busy and active.