A goal I have for my PE students is that they develop a positive attitude towards exercise. I ask my students at the beginning of the year how exercise makes them feel. I repeat that question several times a year looking for a change in attitude. At the beginning, I get a lot of answers like “tired” or “sore”. With some guidance, my students move towards answers like “awesome” and “happy”. Here is lesson idea to help young students develop a positive attitude towards exercise and also learn a little about the body.
I start by asking my class what happens to their body when they exercise. How do they feel immediately afterwards? I get a wide range of answers and I use certain answers to teach about the benefits of exercise. For example, if a student answers that exercise makes their heart beat faster; I can talk about how good exercise is for their heart and how it needs opportunities to beat fast to get stronger.
After a brief discussion time, I play aerobic games that my students really like such as Noodle Ninja and Spider & Flies . After each game, I ask the same question. What do you notice is happening to your body? We add to previous answers and I usually get more specifics such as “I’m hot” or “I’m breathing hard”. I add that the game we played was a fun way to get exercise.
Continuing with ideas and small discussions mixed with physical movement through the year helps my students learn that not only are there lots of ways to get exercise, but that it is fun and makes them feel good.
I usually lead my 1st – 4th grades in a warm-up routine. This week I wanted to see what my 3rd and 4th graders had learned; so I gave them more independence allowing me to observe and assess.
Before starting I set out 4 cones. As the class arrived, I instructed them to go sit by a cone with no more than 7 people at a cone (adjust numbers as needed for class size). I use this method a lot when I want to start them out in groups so this is easy and quick for my classes. Here is the warm-up activity:
Make a big circle with each small group.
Decide who will go first. That person demonstrates a stretch or muscle movement that can be done in place. Everyone joins in on the stretch and the group members count out loud slowly to 15.
Move around the circle giving everyone a turn to be the leader. Be thinking about what your stretch will be so no time is wasted. No repeats allowed.
When you are finished, send a representative from your group to me for your next instruction. I gave them a sequence of 3 cardio activities to finish up.
This gave me an opportunity to watch and see what stretches they used and even circle around and ask what muscle they were stretching. Great for assessment and the students enjoyed the independence. I had zero discipline issues and they worked hard.
For more ideas for using students as leaders, check out this post: Team captains
I have some fitness testing coming up for my 5th and 6th grade classes. I wanted to do something today to give them a good workout and help them prepare. This lesson turned out great!
I have my classes divided into 4 groups of 7-8 students. (read about my method here). I had the students sit in their groups and assigned them each to write a fitness circuit. Their circuit was to have 2 cardio and 2 strength activities. We talked about what the word cardio means and some examples of both kinds of activities. The circuit was to rotate in a cardio-strength-cardio-strength sequence. They did not have to assign a number of reps because we would be timing the rotations for 1 minute. I also told them that if they wanted equipment for their exercises I would get it out for them (jump ropes, yoga balls, etc). I gave them half sheets of cardstock, a marker, and a cone to attach it to when done.
Once the circuits were written, groups began with their own. I played music that paused every minute which signaled them to move on to the next exercise. When they had finished their four exercises they moved to the next cone and started on that group’s circuit. They continued to rotate around until they had completed all four circuits sets. I rewarded them for working hard about halfway through by dropping the intervals to 30 seconds (they were getting tired!)
What made it great:
The kids loved writing their own circuits! They were so proud of them and worked harder.
And they really did work super hard! I’m not sure if it was the ownership that did it, but even my hardest to motivate put in a full effort.
Using a timer instead of a set number of reps allowed students to work at their own level and pace.
Easy! I didn’t have to spend hours writing up exercises, cutting, laminating, etc.
Good for promoting teamwork. I put the “warm-up captain” in charge and they love having a job to do.
As my students left class, they were commenting on how much fun it was and asking if we could do it again. I love it when fitness turns fun!
Foam pool noodles are great for many games and activities. They are also fun for mixing rhythm and movement. Cut pool noodles in half to make them the right size for your students and try some of these cardio/rhythm activities. These moves really get your heart rate up!
Jumping Jacks: Think of a regular jumping jack. When hands are down, tap the floor. Then click noodles overhead. Students can match the beat of a song with the taps. They love making a loud noise as the noodle hits the floor.
Partner Click: Tap both noodles on the floor, then click your right noodle with the right noodle of a partner facing you. Tap both noodles again and follow by clicking left noodles with your partner. Repeat.
Rainbow: Tap both noodles on the floor to your right, then swoosh the noodles overhead and tap on the left. This looks really cool if everyone does this together.
Encourage big exaggerated movements for extra cardio work. Play fun music and have students match the beat with the noodle taps. We Will Rock You is a great song for these moves.
Now add some strength moves and you will have a very physical class period.
Push ups: Lay a noodle on the ground and get in push up position with the noodle under your chest. Touch your chest to the noodle on the down part of the push up.
Leg lift: Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front of you. Hold the noodle in between your feet with about 6 inches of the noodle sticking out from the sole of your shoe. Lean back into a V position. Raise and lower legs just touching the noodle to the floor and your legs go down.
Lunges: Set the noodle on the floor and take a big step forward. Lunge down and touch the noodle with your knee. Switch legs and repeat.
Superman: Lay on your stomach on the floor. Hold your arms straight out in front of you and hold a noodle in your hands. Raise chest and legs off the floor. While holding this position pass the noodle hand to hand going around your back and then across the front.
This lesson is guaranteed to get your students working hard in a fun way! Warning: you’ll work hard too — this lesson leaves me exhausted!
Do you want your students to deeply engage in a new skill? Or want to encourage them to work harder and longer? Try adding a “talent show” portion to your PE class. I tried this last week with fun results. I set out jump ropes and hula hoops in the gym. I told my 3rd and 4th graders that I wanted them to become an expert at one trick. They were to choose a piece of equipment and practice with it for about 18 minutes. Their trick could be on their own or with a partner. I saved about 10 minutes at the end of class for a “talent show”. At talent show time I had them sit on the floor with hands off equipment. We used the stage and had volunteers come up one or two at a time and show their trick. Almost everyone volunteered. We had some really fun and creative tricks! The students loved showing their stuff and really worked hard during class time. It also stopped the constant stream of kids trying to get me to come watch them during class. You could try this with other types of equipment too. Basketball dribbling tricks, tossing and catching tricks, etc.
I am very insecure when it comes to teaching dances. However, this particular dance is so cute and easy that even I can remember and teach it. I used it as a warm-up activity because it gets your heart rate going and is simple to teach.
Use the song Trepak from the Nutcracker. It is just over 2 minutes long. Movement starts right at the first note.
one arm up in the air
2nd arm up in the air
Walk in a circle for 8 counts, ending facing front
Repeat 4 times
4 heel kicks on each foot (total 8 counts)
8 straight jumps
4 heel kicks on each foot
8 straight jumps
4 heel kicks per foot
2 heel kicks per foot
single heel kicks (total of 4 on each foot, going back and forth)
one arm up
2nd arm up
walk in a circle 8 counts
one arm up
2nd arm up
walk in a circle 32 counts (as the song ends, I have the students raise both hands and bow)
That’s it. I go through each movement beforehand without telling them it is a dance. Then just start the music and begin. They immediately smile and get into it. Repeat 2 times so they learn then do. Kindergarten I did not count the heel kicks — just randomly kick.
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:
- Dribbling practice
- Straddle ball
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.
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!
My main goal in PE class is to keep the kids moving while they are with me. In addition, I am trying to fit in some mini lessons this year that help my students gain an understanding of fitness and give them tools to pursue health and fitness on their own. I keep them short and simple to minimize the time they have to sit and listen. Today I taught a mini lesson on heart rate to my 3rd and 4th graders. I went really well. Here is an outline:
As students arrive I had them lie down on the gym floor and relax. We call this “hawaii” in my class. I timed them lying down for 2 minutes while I talked to them about relaxing each muscle, taking deep breaths, etc. Then I had them sit up slowly and find the pulse in their neck. I explained that the pulse would tell them how fast or slow their heart was beating. Some had a hard time finding it, but hopefully that will improve with practice.
Once everyone had found their pulse, I timed them for 6 seconds while they silently counted beats and then had them multiply their number by 10 to find their heartbeats per minute. I explained the concept of resting heart rate and what it meant.
Then we all stood up and did jumping jacks for one minute. After the minute we took our heart rate again. It was much easier to find this time. We compared the numbers and talked about active heart rate and why we needed to get our hearts there.
I then had them lay down again for 1 minute. Following that minute we took heart rates and compared numbers again. I talked to them about recovery and how healthy hearts could recover quickly.
This was about a 10 minute lesson. I plan to follow up by having them take their heart rates more regularly in class now that they have been taught how. I also talked with them about heart rate as being a way to tell if they were working hard enough (or too hard) during PE. Hopefully it will be a valuable addition to our class time.
I have been doing more circuit work this year and the kids really like it. Warm-up circuits are great because they give my students some autonomy (they choose where to start), are fast paced, and get everyone moving. When my students enter on circuit day, they see 10-12 cones set up in a big circle. They can choose where they start, but I give a limit to how many can be at one cone (usually 3-4 students per cone). Each cone is labeled with an exercise. As students move around the circle they should be alternating between a stretch, a cardio exercise, and a strength exercise. For example, calf stretch – jumping jacks – plank. Once the students have chosen their beginning cone, I give a start signal. Every 30 seconds I give the signal to move to the next cone. Use a timer or music with interval breaks to keep consistency on the time. I walk around and correct form as much as I can. When students have gone all the way around the circle, warm-up is done! My students look forward to circuit day and they always work hard.