5 Research-Driven Tactics to Improve Your PE Class


Gym teacher helping student climb gymnasium climbing equipmentIt’s recommended that kids in elementary school spend at least 150 minutes per week in a physical education class (this jumps to 225 minutes for middle school and high school students). In order to make the most of those minutes, physical educators must be strategic in designing lesson plans and structured activities. The goal should be to provide students with as much value to their long-term health and fitness as you can fit into your weekly lesson times.

Research shows that well-structured PE classes not only boost physical health, but can also supplement academic performance by increasing concentration in class and supporting cognitive growth. What does a well-structured PE class look like? Lesson plans can take many forms, but the key factor connecting all good PE classes is that the methods used are supported by studies and research with proven benefits for students.

Here, we’ll look at just 5 research-backed tactics that could improve the value of your PE lessons.

1. Maintain Activity at Least 50% of the Time

PE classes aren’t just about teaching students the facts and figures surrounding health and fitness; your class should also provide an active contrast to the hours of static learning that students engage in each day. Unfortunately, studies show that almost half the schools in the US have no PE curriculum, leaving educators struggling to optimize their classes for success. How much time should be spent playing kickball or introducing concepts surrounding heart health and nutrition?

Overall, the CDC recommends that all PE lessons should focus on keeping students active at least 50% of the class time. To increase the amount of your class time dedicated to getting your students up and moving, consider the following strategies:

2. Teach the Science Behind Active Lifestyles and Exercise

The exercises and drills in physical education class can feel like chores when children don’t know why they’re doing them. Help your students understand the science behind why physical activity is so important to their health. By incorporating a small health lesson with your exercise plans, you can boost their motivation in class while providing them with supplemental knowledge about their own bodies.

According to a meta-analysis by Lonsdale et al, physical education lessons that outline the health benefits of activity can significantly increase the amount of dedication children show towards fitness — helping to foster a commitment to regular exercise. Controlled randomized studies also show that teaching the reasons behind activity in PE made students more motivated to engage in physical activities.

Consider outlining the health benefits of an activity at the beginning of each lesson, and ask your students to reiterate those benefits at the end of the exercise.

3. Use Circuit Training to Reduce Boredom

Boredom is a sneaky opponent to physical activity. Many adults struggle to stay motivated when their workout becomes repetitive and predictable — young children are even more susceptible to this kind of distraction and lack of interest. Circuit training can be effective at eliminating boredom and improving student engagement. It can also be a good way to differentiate learning by giving two choices of activity at each station.

Circuit training involves moving quickly from one physical activity to another in the form of a circuit. Because there’s a clear pattern in these lessons, it can be easier for educators to measure progress, or pinpoint children that are struggling and offer additional help. You can even implement cognitive learning into circuit training; amid physical exercise stations, include stations where students take a quick break from activity to answer questions or discuss the physical benefits they’re getting from each exercise.

4. Introduce Cooperative Learning

The concept of “cooperative learning” stems from the premise that developing self-knowledge is important to students’ lifelong skills for functioning in group situations. A lot of teaching and learning in PE classes happens in small team and group situations. Good group experiences can empower your students as they work towards team goals.

Cooperative learning programs aim to teach:

  • Positive interdependence — students take on key roles in a group to achieve common goals.
  • Accountability — students recognize their place in contributing to the success of a team.
  • Group processing — students reflect on where they need to improve as a group.
  • Developing social skills and leadership skills within students.

Find games and activities that require students to work together cohesively as a team. For instance, students in a game of “kin-ball” will need to work together to transfer a ball into a hoop as a team. This motivates individuals to become productive team members.

5. Implement the Public Health Approach

The “Public Health” approach focuses on helping students develop active habits both inside and outside of the PE classroom. For instance, the “Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids!” curriculum by SPARK delivers physical activity to lessons beyond just PE, expanding fitness into academic classes, as well.

According to a study by Locke & Lambdin, elementary students involved in SPARK PE programs showed an increase in physical activity. Additionally, a study by Sallis et al found that students taught with the SPARK curriculum spent more minutes per week being physically active.

Aside from implementing more movement into classroom settings, fitness habits can also be introduced in after school activities. For instance, SPARK After School research can contribute to greater fitness scores in children, better nutrition knowledge, and reduced sedentary behavior.

These five methods are just a sampling of the many research-based tactics out there for improving value in PE classes. Take your newfound knowledge and data-driven strategies, and apply these to your own physical education lesson plans to get your kids more engaged, interested, and committed to their own health!

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