The World's Most Evidence-Based Physical Education & Physical Activity Programs!

Opportunities to Better Engage Students in PE

Some kids naturally love PE classes, either because they enjoy sports or they relish the opportunity to get out from behind a desk and burn off excess energy. However, for those who aren’t fans of exercise, PE is not a class to look forward to. Sometimes PE teachers face a tough job getting students engaged and motivated in their lessons, so let’s take a look at some tactics that can help.

1. Provide opportunities for self-directed learning

When students are given the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, they’re more likely to be motivated to work hard. This is because they’re working towards goals that they have set and that means something to them. In PE, self-directed learning can involve them choosing a particular type of sport or exercise to master, or defining their own targets in specific activities.

If it isn’t possible to let students pick a sport or exercise with each class – and it often isn’t – you could instead give students some control over your planned lessons. You could take requests on the types of exercise students want to do and try a new one each lesson. Students are more likely to be motivated when they can look forward to the activities they’ve selected. Online exercise classes, which became particularly popular during the coronavirus lockdowns, are still a great way to give activities like yoga or dance aerobics a try. If you’re new or inexperienced in the activities, you can lead by example and show reluctant students that it’s fun to step out of your comfort zone and try new things.

2. Have high yet attainable expectations

Studies show that when we expect good things out of students, they’re more likely to achieve them. When our expectations are high for a student, we tend to give them more of our time, more detailed and supportive feedback, and more approval. This leads them to actually achieve highly because they’ve received plenty of support and also because they’ve had their confidence boosted along the way.

It’s vital that kids who aren’t naturally athletic are treated with high expectations. If not, they’ll believe themselves likely to fail or perform poorly and they may not be motivated to work hard. Make sure to give every student adequate time and support, and to voice your approval. Keep in mind, however, that some students are more experienced or naturally talented at sports than others. When setting goals for students, tailor them for each individual and make it clear that you think they’re within reach.

3. Choose less motivated students as team captains

It may seem counterintuitive to choose the least motivated students as captains when dividing the class into teams since a good captain motivates her team. However, it’s common for the most athletically gifted students to be made captains because they have plenty of passion and enthusiasm. This can lead to less enthusiastic students feeling overlooked, particularly if they’re often picked last if you let captains choose their teammates.

By giving the role of captain to those who aren’t keen on PE, you instil a new sense of ownership in the activity. The responsibility of leadership can boost their self-esteem and encourage them to really try their best. Plus, they’re more likely to develop a sense of team pride which can boost their social connections and help them have fun with sports.

Much of keeping students motivated revolves around giving them greater autonomy over activities. Try the tactics above and see what impact they have on your PE students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Informed

Get Exclusive Offers & News

Featured Resources

Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education: Access and Opportunity

Author: Dr. Lauren J. Lieberman Ph.D. and Michelle Grenier Ph.D.

The Power of Self-Assessment

Author: Crystal Rochford

5 Ways Students Can Get More Exercise Outside of Physical Education

Author: Alyssa Strickland

Instant Activities- A Great Way to Start Your Day!

Author: Jeff Mushkin

View SPARK Programs​

Subscribe to the SPARK eNewsletter


Sign up to receive our monthly eNewsletter, free resources, webinar information, and more!