6 Ways to Motivate Students in Elementary PE

I quickly survey the class sitting in front of me as I transition from one activity to the next.  Keeping instruction short and sweet is very important to me, so I try my hardest to be brief but to the point. 

Teacher kid Elem 155

I see that most of them are quietly sitting in “pretzel” position, their hands to themselves, and intently watching and listening to me this time all except for “Danny”, sitting near the back of the class.  “Danny”, who a second ago began to lie down on the gym floor making snow angels, now abruptly sits up, pokes the back of the child in front of him, and begins to violently spin in a 360 degree circle, all while instruction is taking place.

Does this sound familiar?  Do you have classes where the dynamics sometimes make things really, r-e-a-l-l-y challenging?  We all have different types of students in our school.  Some of them are excellent listeners, follow directions, and always seem to do the right thing. Some of them, unfortunately, are not.  They may have issues (personal, physical or behavioral) going on.  They may not value or care about school.  Whatever the lack of motivation may be, it is our job to try to get kids “turned on” to physical activity, and get excited to participate in physical education.

Luckily most elementary school children love coming to and participating in PE.  I realize that it may not be for everyone.  It is imperative to try to connect with all children, and by utilizing different teaching strategies, promoting positive behavior can be effective with them if done correctly.  The following are a few ways I have been promoting positive behavior in my school:

1. Student of the Month Award:

This award is given to a student in every class each month.  A student that has had great effort, good sportsmanship, is an excellent listener and helper, and does an all-around great job in my class gets this award.

Display student accomplishments on the HonorWall board.
Display student accomplishments on the HonorWall board.

I have given this award to children who have really tried to improve behavior if they are struggling in my class.  I do not base it on athletic skill.  This student is given a certificate, has their picture taken which my colleagues and I post out in the hallway each month on this HonorWall board.  Students really look forward to this at the end of each month, and some former students have told me that they still have their picture and certificate from many years back.  For some, this can be a motivating factor in itself.  Does every child get one?  No, however by the time they leave my school (my school is K-5), they have a very good chance of getting it.

2. NBA Sneaker Contest:

I got this idea many years ago from another PE teacher.  I contacted an NBA Basketball Equipment Manager and asked him if he could donate the largest size sneaker that he had for this school initiative.  The gentleman sent me what he claimed is Dikembe Mutombo’s size 22 Nike sneakers.  Each class of every grade level in the school gets a class score when they leave at the end of physical education.  The highest score a class can get is a “3”, the lowest, “0”.  Classes that demonstrate good behavior, effort, cooperation will score the most points.  If a class receives a lower score one day, it is a really easy way to assess them (and to notify their classroom teacher).  Most classes are very unhappy about this, and are motivated to do better.  The class from grades 1-2, and 3-5 with the highest amount of points get to keep one of the extremely large sneakers in their classroom.  Every two months we announce a new winner.  In case of a tie, a special mark is made in our grade book if a class was as perfect as possible (“3+”).

3. Sneaker Cutouts:

For 30 minutes of physical activity outside the school day, children have the chance to decorate, and cutout a paper sneaker to be placed on the gymnasium wall.  Children can fill out as many as they wish.  The only stipulation is that it must be signed by a parent/guardian in order to have it on the wall.  It is great to see students take sneaker sheets at the end of each class, and to see our gymnasium walls filled with them is such a sight to see!

4. Individual Behavior Plans:

I have run many different varieties of a behavior sheet for children.  For those who need a push, I base a plan on the need for improvement.  It may be for a sticker, certificate or even a small token (i.e.: mini ball, yo-yo, pencil).  I make sure that I communicate with the parent/guardian to make them aware that I need their help to come from home when trying to improve behavior.

5. “Sticker Time”:

Kindergarteners can be tough… they are babies!   For some this is their first experience with school.    Most come to my gymnasium VERY excited, and in turn can be draining.  In order to get them under my routines and in control of their behavior, I initiated “sticker time”. If a student at the end of the class did not need a time-out, and was a good listener, they receive a small sticker.  This incentive changes several months in where students only earn the sticker on the last class of the week that I see them.

6. Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (P.B.I.S.):

Stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support.  This is a school wide program where we (the physical education staff) are included in a building behavior system.  Students can earn tokens for being observed doing something good.  These tokens are cutout paws (we are the Lakeview Bulldogs) that children can accumulate for other incentives based in their classroom.  Staff members all have paws to hand out on different colored paper so it can be tracked where the student got the paw from (bus, monitor, special area, nurse, etc).  I have been known to give both individual and/or class paws to help reinforce good behavior.  This system only works if all staff members buy into it.

What are some ways that you motivate your students? 

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