Back to School Jitters: How to Start The School Year Right in PE Class


Students aren’t the only ones who experience the anticipation the first day of school can bring—teachers do too.

In order to help yourself and your students relax, shake off the first-day jitters, and get a great start to this school year, there are some things you can do. Best of all, you won’t break the budget within the first week of classes.

Here’s how to start the school year right in PE class.

Create a Theme

For many students, the first day of a school year is a magical, exciting time. You can capitalize on their feelings of wonder by creating a fun and engaging theme for your classroom or gym.Spark PE

Depending on the age of your students, you can adopt an undersea theme, a space theme, a professional sports theme, or if you live in a hyper-local area, you can assimilate your theme to match the local college or professional team’s colors.

The benefits of this are many: you will make the kids feel at home, they’ll have something interesting and stimulating to look at, and it will encourage conversation among students who don’t know each other already.

And since you’re in PE, you can integrate fun games and activities into your theme. For example, if you’re theme is all about the LSU Tigers and your class is full of elementary school students, you can create a scavenger hunt using the team’s colors (purple and gold). If you go with a zoo theme, you can create games where your students must point out what animals belong in what climates and what sounds they make.

Careful Commentary

PE class is a time to feel motivated and to grow physically and mentally. As we all know from our day-to-day interactions, a single message can be communicated very different ways, which will lead to very different outcomes. After all, it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it, right?

The point here is that messages should be communicated in such a way to make students, especially the younger ones, feel comfortable, welcome, and encouraged. While PE class is a time for challenges, it is not a time to feel overly pressured or defeated. Children who are less athletic or outgoing than others (which are the ones who need extra encouragement) don’t respond well to the throw-‘em-to-the-sharks or survival-of-the-fittest approach. In fact, it just makes PE the most dreaded part of the day.

Consider using language in a specific way to make your students feel comfortable. Take these tips from our Friendly Phrasing video on our SPARK Trainer Tips page:

  • Rather than shouting, “Laps!”—that dreaded command that is heard mostly as “Keep running in a circle over and over until you’re exhausted!”—try a term like “Circuit.” This more technical, athletic, and interesting term can help students to realize they’re doing something worthwhile and challenging. Running is running, but the way students think about it is what encourages them. Do you want your students to think: running in circles or endurance training?
  • Rather than asking students to “hold hands” which has all kinds of cootie-filled implications, ask them to “join hands.” This more approachable request removes the awkward component for students; especially those in a co-ed class.
  • Perhaps the most important is rephrasing the idea of “winners and losers.” This good/bad dichotomy is what confirms the less agile or social students’ preconceptions that they are failures in PE. Try instead “success and try again.” If your students are practicing shooting a basketball into a hoop, the students who make it can step to the “success” square while the others can step into the “try again” square. This perpetuates the idea that there is no failure; there is no losing. There is only getting back up and trying again with the awareness that it’s okay to not get it right away.

There’s no need for excessive coddling, but until you get the cue that your students are comfortable and having a good time, make sure you pay special attention to word choice. Keep up everyone’s spirits with positive communication and reinforcement.

Continue the Fun

Now that you’ve created this incredibly engaging environment where you’re able to proficiently teach students their lessons in a variety of ways, keep going.

Maintain your theme throughout the year, or switch it up once in awhile; either way, make sure you always give your students an active atmosphere to overcome challenges, think critically, and move, move, move.

If you’re feeling particularly entrepreneurial, why not involve other classrooms too? Wouldn’t it be fun if your students could go to the gym for one or two math classes a semester to get real-life instruction on sine waves or parabolas using the flight of basketballs and volleyballs? The same goes for science class, too. Why not simulate the solar system using students as the planets in the large, planetarium-like gym? Combining these academic disciplines with movement is a great way to help your students truly learn the material instead of allowing them to memorize it.

Give Your Lessons a SPARK

Of course, it’s difficult to maintain the same level of excitement throughout the year that you experience on the first day.

In order to prevent the mid-semester doldrums from derailing your engaging classroom, call on SPARK to add a jolt into your learning environment. These clinically proven methods, techniques, and advice help you reach your children like never before. You’ll be able to ensure that your students are doing more than running laps or throwing tennis balls at a wall.

They’ll be learning. Now that’s a great way to start off the school year right.