Kids are born to run. Every toddler loves to be chased, and as they get older tag becomes a new favorite game to play. For many kids, this love of play blossoms into involvement in sports, and with each positive experience the joy of moving continues to grow.
This isn’t true of all students, however—for many the enjoyment of running fades the older they get. Many become turned off by the fact that running can be painful, or they don’t like to sweat or are just bored by it. And even kids who will play sports for hours may act like it’s pure torture when you ask them to run around the gym for a couple minutes. And team sports can be great in gym class, but only when skills have been developed and ability levels among the students are even.
Finding activities that get students moving without the worry of these negative consequences is a daily challenge for every physical education teacher, but it’s not necessarily a losing battle.
In order to be convinced that giving their best is worthwhile, students need an answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” They understand that running in PE results in a better grade, builds strength, and can give an edge in sports. But what if all that isn’t sufficient motivation? How can we motivate students to meet both our goals for them as well as their own needs as kids?
Kids are motivated by fun, which is why they can be seen jumping up to touch the nets or starting impromptu games of tag when they’re bored. Instead of forcing them into activities that only we want, or continuing a struggling unit, why not find activities that fulfill both students’ and teachers’ needs? Here are five games every PE teacher should have in their repertoire that are highly engaging to all students and playable with large groups and varied ability levels. They’re basically just running games that leave students red-faced and huffing and puffing by the end of class.
- Sharks and Minnows: The classic tag game where one student (the shark) chases the rest of the class (the minnows). Every tagged student becomes a shark. Students like it because it’s a fun challenge to try and fake out their friends with rapid changes in direction as they run so they can be the last minnow left. Teachers like the fact that it has students running back and forth time and time again. With no equipment or setup needed, this game is perfect to fill a few extra minutes and fun enough for a full class period. It’s a game designed for elementary students, but high school students still enjoy this game too.
- Midnight: Similar to Sharks and Minnows, but four to six taggers are given dodgeballs and mats to hide behind while the rest of the class is turned around. Then the runners turn back around and try to make it to the other side of the room, and the taggers try to stay hidden until just the right moment to strike. Students like it because the suspense of not knowing where a thrower is raises the excitement level. Teachers like it because students are sprinting back and forth multiple times. Dim the lights and get ready for a memorable gym class.
- Crazy Kickball: Set up a normal kickball game, but in this version each team has a few kickers who don’t run, and the rest of the team runs at the same time. All the runners must touch each base, and they choose which base to stop on. If a player scores, they continue around the bases and try to score again. With multiple runners rounding the bases, the team playing defense can get to three outs at any moment. Students like it because they can run with their friends. Teachers like it because no one is ever sitting out. As the kids run round and round the gym, the game really lives up to its name.
- Capture the Football: A capture-the-flag-style game, but with three footballs on each side instead of a flag. The goal is to get all six footballs to your side. Students like it because there’s a job for everyone and they like crossing their classmates up. Teachers like it because they watch students race back and forth, and just when a team thinks they have won, the game continues and so does the workout.
- Cats’ Corner: A dodgeball-style game in which throwers (cats) try to hit runners (mice) with a ball. Runners start in safe spots in each corner of the gym, and on a signal they must try to make it to a different corner without getting hit. Students like it because they get to play dodgeball. Teachers like it because students get their dodgeball fix, but with much more running.