Make Every Minute Count… Including the First One!

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Do you make every minute with your students count?

Even the first one?

Continue reading for three simple and quick ways to get your students instantly active!

It’s a cool fall day (we can all dream, can’t we?) and Ms. Pitsburg’s 3rd grade class enters the gymnasium and reports to their individual jet logo painted on the floor. They immediately sit on their spot, criss-cross. As Ms. Pitsburg has a brief conversation with the classroom teacher, the students peer around the room trying to determine the activities for the day by the equipment around the room. As the students begin to get fidgety, Ms. Pitsburg turns her focus to the class with “Wow! You all are sitting so quietly. Well done!”

Okay, okay, anyone cringing at this scenario yet? In full disclosure, for the first 2-3 months of my teaching career, this is how I taught. Students entered the gym and immediately sat in the squad lines (and I won’t even start on how long it took to get them to remember their spots).

Replace Squads with Intro Activities

Around Christmas of my first year of teaching, I discovered the wonders of Introductory Activities (some refer to them as PE Instant Activities or Warm ups), and oh, how they changed my life.

As a field we are beginning to see ourselves as physical activity promoters, and engaging students in physical activity at least 50% of each lesson is accepted as a goal in physical education.

In my experience as a teacher and teacher educator, I have found that the first few minutes of any lesson set the tone for the rest of the class. In fact, I would argue that the first minute is the most important. For this reason, I think introductory activities are pivotal for every lesson. An Introductory Activity (Intro) is the very first physical activity students engage in immediately upon entering the gymnasium.

The Beginning of Class: The Old Way

Often, teachers do other administrative tasks while students wait for instruction on lines or in squad spots, and then they get to the activity. For example, I have worked with teachers who meet the class at the door, allow the class to enter to sit on spots, explain the day’s lesson, ask for questions, in some cases, take attendance, and then they move to the Intro. This is not truly an Intro.

The process I described can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes. In a 30 minute lesson, 5 minutes is 17% of the lesson. Thus, teachers striving to get students moving for at least 50% have an uphill battle for the next 25 minutes of a lesson. If you do have to take attendance, there are lots of strategies for doing this while students are active. While beyond the scope of this blog, if you need some attendance strategies please contact me.

A New Way to Begin PE

PE Instant activities poster

Intros take place within 30 seconds of the teacher receiving the class from their classroom teacher.

Greeting a class might look something like this, “Good morning 3rd grade. I love those smiles. I have lots of fun Frisbee activities for us today and some great tunes. Let’s hit the floor jogging today. Go!” Students then jog in general space within the teaching area. After all the students have entered the space, the class is frozen on command such as “FREEZE” or a whistle, and the active lesson continues.

Beyond providing immediate physical activity, introductory activities allow the teachers to set the tone for classroom management. For instance, moving and freezing students three times assists in establishing effective management that will enhance lesson efficiency. The Intro also gets the students ready for an active lesson.

For me, Intros typically involve limited instruction. Complex rules or instructions yield decreased activity. Also, most of the Intros I use are designed for 2-4 minutes. Beyond that, students will lose interest. Besides, I have other activities for the lesson. I am just using the Intro to engage in activity, get them ready for physical activity, and establish management. To do this, below are some simple, but effective Intro samples.

Instant Activities

1. Move and Freeze:

Students move using a teacher-instructed locomotor movement. On signal, students freeze in the pre-determined “freeze” position. I usually use hands on knees with elementary and hands on waist for middle or high. While simple, this activity works great at the beginning of the school year when establishing management protocol is the focus.

2. Walking Trail:

Students are instructed to enter the gym and walk on the perimeter. I use this sparingly because it reminds me of the ole “take a lap”. However, it can be fun for students and is an active way to start the lesson. Some teachers use the walking trail while students enter and then quickly move to another introductory activity after the first “freeze”.

3. High Fives:

This is my all-time favorite because it allows for integration and students love it. Students move in general space. When the teacher says, “High Fives” students give as many high fives as possible until the instructor calls out another locomotor movement. This process continues for 2-3 rounds. Modifications include counting by fives, “High Two”, behind the back fives, and my favorite, low fives and they only count if your feet are off the ground and your hand is below your knee. This one is great fun to watch!    

These are just a few. I encourage you to dig around and look for more. Intros, PE Instant Activities or Warm Ups can be found in lots of resources. The key is to truly use them instantly in a lesson. This will help maximize activity, prepare students for the lesson, and establish management procedures. Plus, students will “get their wiggles out” and be more willing to listen to your brief instructions following the Intro.

Give it a shot and make every minute count, including the first one.

3 Responses

  1. This is my first year teaching gym K-8. Have no idea how to begin class with attendance in a quick and effective way. I’m in the inner city with very challenging students. I want to incorporate running laps around the gym when they first arrive and figure out how to take attendance while thats going on. Thanks

  2. Hi Eric,

    There are so many ways to go about getting your students active when they come in. You can have them do laps or an instant activity. You can assign floor spots or squads to make attendance easier. I hope your year is going good so far. If you need any ideas on any thing feel free to reach out.

  3. Covid was a game changer. Socially distancing and sitting on space while attendance is taken is a MUST!

    The guy I replaced treated PE like recess. Insanity I sued from the minute they came flying in, including climbing and running up and across the top of closed bleachers. It was horrid. There was no equipment, and ZERO money for equipment. There was no structure at all.

    Now that I have control, it is organized. Lesson plans, and greeting at the door must happen. Free play and chaos can come in to play during “self directed” PE. I also think having students come in and take a lap, would get old fast. So I take them outside for the first 10 minutes. I have them for 50 minutes. And I pay for ALL equipment, out of my own pocket. Behavior is an issue at my school, and it struggles every day with respect of any teacher or authority. So while your ideas are good, it can’t always happen that way.

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