Ocean Explore: My Favorite PE Team-Building Activity

The beginning of the school year is a special time for students. Being around peers, seeing old classmates and friends along with the thought of meeting new classmates and friends can all be exciting yet overwhelming. For this reason, I have always made sure to include icebreakers and team-building activities into my physical education lessons to start the year.

Unfortunately, sometimes we as physical educators slip into the mindset that students can start the year right where they left off in regard to rules, expectations and social relationships with peers. That is why I feel it is important to create a social bridge between summer break and the start of the school year. Icebreakers and team-building activities are a great way to address this need.

Icebreaker Ideas

Ice breakers and team-building activities provide great opportunities to decrease student stress and anxiety while promoting communication and collaboration when working with classmates. The goal of an icebreaker is to help students feel comfortable interacting with each other through a simple activity that encourages communication and participation. This may look like putting students into small groups and providing a fun icebreaker question that students can share their answers with the group. Because I teach at the elementary level, one of my favorite icebreaker questions to ask my students is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” That never fails to spark great conversations at any grade level! The goal of team-building activities is to build on the communication component of icebreaker activities by asking groups or teams to accomplish a task or goal through collaboration, defining roles, and helping students identify their strengths and weaknesses while working with others. This may look like grouping students into small teams and providing various equipment or material needed to complete assigned tasks for the team to complete together.

Ocean Explore: My Favorite Team-Building Activity

One of my favorite team-building activities is called “Ocean Explore” (shown below). The concept for this activity came to me several years ago after being inspired by the well-known physical education activity “River Cross”. In this activity, students are grouped into small teams of 3-4 players and provided miscellaneous equipment to use to travel to the 10-12 islands around the ocean. I typically use old jump ropes/rope, spots, and scooters for my students to reimagine as different materials to be used to travel. I also add random items in the oceans as obstacles for teams to figure out how to travel around (garbage cans, buckets, tires). Teams are assigned a starting island (gymnastics mat) and given rules and tasks for the round. Endless ways to explore, utilize the equipment, and work together. Don’t fall in the water!

See the sample chart below for various rules and tasks you can try with your students!

Players may not touch the water (floor) with hands or feet.Can your team work together to visit every island in the ocean? In numerical order, if islands are numbered?
Players may not begin to travel to a new island until every team member is together on the present island.After visiting an island, your team must leave one item on the island before departing to the next.
Players may not use equipment in unsafe ways instructed by the teacher (standing on a scooter, twirling ropes, etc).Can your team work together to visit each island in a designated amount of time? Can your team improve its time?

*Teachers can be creative on penalties and consequences for rules being broken (team/player returns to previous island or starting island, piece of equipment forfeited, etc).

I hope I have provided an effective reminder of the positive social and emotional effectiveness icebreaker and team-building activities can have on your students. Wishing everyone a great start to the year!

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