Team captains

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I divide my 5th and 6th grade classes into 4 teams or squads (about 8 students per team).  I assign each team a captain.  I have found this to be helpful in so many ways.  I live in a very active sports-oriented community.  By 5th grade many of my students have been playing organized sports for years and are very skilled.  Some of these highly skilled students can be a behavior problem for me.  They can be cocky, intimidating to others, like to show-off or goof off, etc.  This is not always the case, but it is a common management problem I have faced.  Giving some of these kids an important job makes a world of difference.  I spend a bit of time at the first of the year talking about the importance of teamwork and what I will see a good team doing.  I talk about how important the captain is and how much extra work I give them and how I need their help.  The following week, I divided up my groups and announce the captains.  It literally changes how these kids act and work in class.  They become wonderful leaders!  The job focuses them on helping other students and helping their team succeed.

Some of the things I have my captains do:

Teach skills:  I will demonstrate a new skill and then have each team shadow their captain a certain number of times to practice.  Or, have the captain work with their team to practice something we are learning.

Score keep:  If we are playing a game, I give the captain a notebook and have him/her keep score.

Timers:  For an activity that requires a timer, I will give my captain a timer and have him/her be in charge of keeping time for their team.

Clean-up:  I leave a note in their notebooks about what their teams’ clean-up job is.  They pass the info onto their team and lead the clean-up.

Assigning others:  If it seems as if the captain is doing too much, I just ask him/her to give the job to someone else.  “choose someone on your team who has been working hard and have them be in charge of the timer”

I rotate captains about every 2 months so that many get a chance during the year to have the job.  My students will work hard for the honor of being the captain.  I don’t always just choose skilled students, but look for those that can lead and are good team players.

Other class jobs are warm-up leaders, and skill-specific captains.

My students have really responded to this system.  I love to see the leadership emerge!

1st Day games

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Today was the first day of school.  One of the things I like to work on with my students as we begin PE class is finding partners quickly.  I also like to mix movement in with learning the rules.  This game helped give us some movement today, practice staying in our own space, and practice finding a partner quickly.

Begin by having your class spread out onto your gym space.  I talk to them about staying in their own “bubble” and not interfering with anyone else.   Play music and have them walk around staying in their space.  When the music stops, they freeze toe-to-toe with the closest person.  Shake hands with that person while saying “my name is ______ and I like to _________”.  The partner then responds with their name and something they like to do.  Start the music again and repeat.  As partners are found, I teach them to come to the middle if they do not have a partner.  As they arrive in the middle, partners can easily be found.  I also work with them on inviting someone in to their partnership if there is an odd number and someone left out.

Some things I watch for and comment on as we play:

How are they moving?  Some of my students will walk like they are in the hallway with arms folded, slow walk.  This is PE!  You move your arms in here!  By the end they are really moving and laughing.

Are they partnering with only girls-to-girls and boys-to-boys?  You can mix things up by requiring students to find a partner with the same color shirt, same height, etc.

Are the following the established guidelines?  If I have told them to walk, they must walk and not run.

Are they staying in their own space?  Running into walls or onto the stage steps is not acceptable.  Arm in arm with another person is not acceptable.

It is a great time to establish some boundaries while having fun and mixing with their new classmates.

Once they learn how to find a partner quickly, dividing them throughout the year becomes easier.  Next week we will practice in a similar fashion, but vary the number in the group.

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!

Straddle Ball

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Here is a quick and easy game that doesn’t require a lot of equipment.  It also can be done in small spaces so it works well for classroom teachers that want to get kids moving a bit.

Students get in groups of 5-6.  They form a big circle facing in and take a wide stance with the side edges of their feet touching.  Place a playground ball in the center of the circle.  Players try to score a “goal” by rolling the ball between someone else’s legs.  They can block with their hands, but cannot move their feet.  They should try and keep the ball rolling, not bouncing in the air (for safety).

My students had a lot of fun with this once they got the ball rolling fast.  You can add movement by having the student who lets a goal get by run a lap, etc.  Scoring is optional depending on the level of competition you want to have.  Quick and easy games like this are great to have in your head when you need a quick filler.

Noodle Ninja

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This game is a favorite with my classes and is especially effective with 3rd and 4th grades.  It is good for cardio exercise and to get the class mixing together and playing with lots of different friends.  It is also a fun use of new equipment.

I use pool noodles for this game.  I buy them on clearance at the end of the summer and then cut them in half. For less than $20 I have a class set.

Game:  Give each student 1 noodle.  Students meet with a partner and tap their noodles 3 times together.  They then try and bop their partner’s ankle or foot.  Each time a foot is hit, start a new round.  At the end of three rounds students must find a new partner.  When they need a new partner, I have them go to the center of the room and hold their noodle in the air as a signal.  Since the rounds go so fast, they are constantly mixing and finding new partners.

Management:  When teaching the game, I demonstrate what is an appropriate hit and what is not.  Be specific on rules!  I also spend some time on the method for finding a new partner.  I stress that they duel with the first person to become available.  Once these things have been taught, you can throw out the noodles and have a quick 3 minute game whenever needed.

Notes:  I have found that 1st and 2nd graders have a hard time holding on to the noodles; their hands are too small.  The game has also worked well with my 5th graders.  My 6th graders tend to get aggressive fast so keep the time played short.  The game is fun outside or in.  As always, fun music adds to the energy.

beach-volley game

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In 5th and 6th grade we have been working on the volleyball skills of bump and set.  At the end of each class period we played this game with a beach ball to practice the skills in a fun way.

Divide gym space into 4 squares.  I did this using poly-spots.  Class is divided into 4 equal teams (about 8 students per team) and each team positions themselves in one of the squares.  I serve a beach ball into the playing area.  Teams try and keep the ball from hitting the ground in their square using sets and bumps.  We also practice a couple of volleyball rules:  no double hits and no carrying the ball.  Anytime the ball hits the ground the team in that square gets a point (least points wins) and the ball returns to the side to be served in.  By serving the ball in myself I can vary the area the ball begins in to maximize keeping all students involved.  My students have gotten quite good at keeping the ball in the air and loved playing this game.  We played it for just five minutes at the end of each class.  It is quick to set up and clean up as well as lots of fun.

I also tried it with multiple balls in the air — doesn’t work as good, too confusing

Could potentially try it using a real volleyball

Merry Go Round Parachute Game

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Here is another fun parachute activity that my students love . . .

I begin by having them pull the parachute tight.  Tell them to lean backwards and let the parachute hold them up. Then walk in a circle together keeping the speed consistent and the chute tight.  Now your students are prepped for the game.

Give a scooter to about every fifth student around the parachute.  These students sit on the scooter and hold onto the parachute with one hand.  Tell them if they lose control or start to fall off, they must roll UNDER the parachute.  That keeps them from getting stepped on or tripping someone.  The standing students walk fast in a circle pulling the scooter students along.  After those students ride, stop and pass the scooters forward and repeat.

This activity is a tight squeeze in my small gym, but the kids love it!

Centipede Relay

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Centipede Relay is a fun game that can be played indoors or outdoors.  It is a good cardiovascular activity as the students really get moving, but can be done in smaller spaces.  The game works with small or large groups; just adjust the amount of teams you have.  Teams should have 4-8 players.

Place 2 hula hoops per team on opposite ends of play area.  Fill 1 of the hoops with miscellaneous  tossables such as bean bags, different ball sizes, etc.  I always throw in a rubber chicken for fun and the kids love that.  Students then line up behind the hoop with the tossables.  The task is to move the items down to the other hoop.  They do this by passing between the legs then over the head (every other person) one item at a time.  When the first person has handed off, he/she runs to the end of the line so that the line keeps shifting and moving towards the next hoop.  They move one object at a time and then run back and begin passing the next object.  You can play race-style and see which team gets their objects to the other hoop first; or have them play for a certain amount of time.  When indoors, I add fun music and they play until the music stops.  It is a crazy, fast-moving game.

Rock, Paper, Scissors made active

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I have several versions of rock, paper, scissors that are easy to add-in as needed to any lesson.  They are also good for regular classroom teachers to use when their students need a break.  They are fast, require no equipment and  get the children moving around and interacting.

Whole body:  Instead of using just your hands; rock, paper, or scissors is made with your whole body.  Curl up for a rock.  Body in an ‘x’ shape for scissors.  Feet together and hands straight in the air for paper.  Students jump 3 times then make their shape.

Olympic:  Divide the room into 3 sections using cones or any visual markers.  One section is bronze, one is silver, and one is gold.  In the gold section make a “podium” using a mat, chair, or any raised surface.  All students begin in bronze and find a partner to play.  Winner moves into the silver section and loser stays in bronze.  Continue to find new partners and play, moving up or down levels when you win or lose.  If you win in the gold section you stay there and play again.  If you win 3 times in a row you stand on the podium.  I play with my classes that as a new person gains the podium they must challenge whoever was there first.  The winner stays on the podium and the loser goes back to bronze.  You can also play it that the podium can have multiple players.  Play for any amount of time (usually about 5 minutes)

Train:  Players form a train of 3-4 people standing in a line and placing hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them.  The front player challenges the “engine” from another train to RPS.  The loser becomes the caboose of that train.  The train then chugs the room and looks for another train to play.  See who gets the longest train.

Chicken, Monkey, Superman:  This one is my favorite.  It is similar to Olympic (above).  All students start out as chickens (crouch down and make chicken wings) and find a partner to play.  Winners move up to monkeys (stand and make monkey arms).  Winning monkeys become superman (arms out as if flying) and losing monkeys go back to being a chicken.  Chickens must play chickens, etc.  I place mats at both sides of the gym.  If a person wins 3 times in a row as superman; he/she becomes the king and stands on either mat.  Another winner can challenge them and take their place if they win.  Losers go back to being a chicken.  The children really get giggling with this one and it is fun to watch.

This is the first week of school for me.   I have been spending lots of time going over the class rules with my students and these simple games have been a good way to break things up and make the class fun.

4-way capture the flag

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I have never been a fan of the game “capture the flag”.  When I tried it with my classes I always ended up with a lot of students standing around and plenty of fighting over rules being followed.  However, I get asked by students to play it quite frequently.  I modified some rules and came up with a new version that I like a lot.  The students had a great time as well and my 6th graders requested to play it during their last week of PE this year.

Play area is divided into 4 equal areas.  Make them big (about 30 paces square) if possible.  I used poly spots to mark dividing lines.  All areas should be connected — like a large rectangle divided into fourths.

Each area has a hula hoop with 5 bean bags in it and 4 cones set up in a square (jail)

Students are divided into 4 teams and each team takes a square.  They wore pinnies to separate teams.

Goal is to try and get the most bean bags into your team’s hula hoop.

Bean bags can be stolen one at a time only.  They can be passed from player to player but not thrown.

Players can be tagged anytime they are out of their own area.  Tagged players must go to the tagging team’s jail.  They can be rescued by one of their teammates.  Rescued players get a free walk-back with their rescuer, but they must be touching as they walk back.  You can only rescue one teammate at a time.

Hula hoops are a “free” area.  Players cannot be tagged if they are standing in a hula hoop.  You cannot stand in your own team’s hula hoop.  One person can guard your team’s hoop, but must be three steps away.  One person can be in a hoop at a time.  (It is fun to see the strategies team members come up with when a person gets trapped in a hoop)

Can steal bean bags from any other team’s hoop.

The game does not stop once started.  At the end of a play session, teams can count up their bags and see who has the most.

This version brought about much more involvement from all class members.  Teams really had to pay attention or their whole team could end up in jail. (I called occasional “jail break” when this happens).  The multiple bean bags really made a difference in keeping things moving and allowed for natural score-keeping for the more competitive types.