This year has been a tough one for teachers. We’re all still adjusting to the new routines and rules required to stay safe
during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the list of games and activities we would normally lean on to give our students a much-needed activity break between lessons has been significantly curtailed by the restrictions.
At my school, for example, our gym is off-limits due to new COVID-related protocols, and we have been restricted from accessing the shared gym equipment.
It has left teachers scratching their heads. How can we make PE class meaningful and focused under these conditions? What else can we offer our students beyond free time on the playground?
Not only have teachers been scrambling, but students—without the comfort of the familiar rules in the gymnasium—have been unfocused and unmotivated to practice structured activities in spaces that were designed and intended for free play. When the “classroom” is outdoors, we have to help our students understand that rules around following directions and instructions still apply, just as they did indoors.
Here are some tips that have worked for my middle-grade students to encourage them to focus, practice, and try their best.
1. Teach something in each PE lesson
This might sound like a no-brainer, but there have been lots of times where I’ve just released the hounds and let the kids enjoy the playground with no real direction or purpose. Setting the tone before you start, with a short review of a particular skill or concept
, will give students something to think about as they play. It also gives us teachers something to focus on and build on throughout the year.
It could be something simple like saying, “Today, we’re going to focus on balance.” Or show a video
before heading outside to get the kids thinking about that particular skill and where they can practice it on the playground.
Related read: Check out our collection of fundamental movement skills videos
2. Mix it up
Even the most exciting lessons and topics can be a bore if they drag on too long. Every second or third class, switch it up with a game
or new skill to focus on. If you’re focusing on catching and throwing [PDF], for example, every few classes, throw in a playground game of Floor is Lava after a couple of sessions.
3. Let them choose
Especially if you teach middle-grade or older students, they already have a lot of experience with PE games and activities. You can ask the kids to help choose a game or assign a pair of students to lead others through some exercises to show off some of the fundamental movement skills
they’ve been practicing.
They can follow the leaders through all the various places on the playground, fields, and open spaces to demonstrate specific skills and abilities.
4. Give students meaningful feedback
Just like it’s important to provide students with feedback on their reading and writing, giving them useful and positive pointers when they’re exercising will help them build skill and confidence
. Try to avoid comments such as “good job
,” as these are often overused and can be too vague.
Here are some example of constructive feedback:
Little nudges and prompts
- “I can see how hard you are working.”
- “You were so nervous, and you did it!”
- “Can you show me where else you can stand on one leg?”
- “Okay. This time when you’re pushing up, can you wave to me?”
will help encourage students to try new things, and inspire them to push the limits of their abilities, learn new skills and feel motivated to try again.
5. Keep it fun
Remember to smile, join in the fun, play some music, and just enjoy being active together.
PE resources for teachers
Ideas for brain and movement breaks
For kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers
Resources to support physical literacy at home
Marta Orellana teaches upper intermediate grades in a North Vancouver elementary school, where PE is generally taught by classroom teachers rather than PE specialist teachers.