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3 Classroom Management Strategies: Teaching P.E. with Commands, Echoes, and Sound Effects

ClassActivity MiddleSchool PE 322

When thinking about all the great educators I have come across, I think about what makes them successful. How have they molded me to be the educator I am today? What do we have in common? Management. Classroom management.

It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching a math class of 22 or a gym full of 88 students, if the teacher lacks management skills then learning may not take place or perhaps not be at the desired level of learning compared with a teacher who is very skilled in managing.

As I reflect on my own gym management, I realize I teach with commands, echoes, and more recently, sound effects. I find that having a set of key words and teaching students how to react to those key words, allows us to use our time effectively. I am able to transition my students from one activity to another quickly with a series of short phrases. This gives us the opportunity to spend more time in moderate to vigorous physical activity because time is not wasted during transition.

1. Commands

Commands are words that I use to move my students in and out of different formations for various activities or games. When giving a command to my students, I state the command first, allow a second for them to process how to react, then students began to move into action when I say, “go.”

For example, if I need students to all have their own space in the gym I would say, “Scatter like Ants, GO!” followed by a short countdown for them to be in a spot ready and spread out. Some commands are used to get their attention, or to start and stop an activity. For example, to get my class’s attention I might say “Hey, Hey Team!” and they would respond, “Hey, Hey Coach!” and give their attention to me. Below is a list of commands that I use with my students and how my students respond to those key words or phrases.

  • Homebase – Move to squad line
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly – Quickly find a partner, stand face-to-face
  • BLT – Find a small group of three
  • Short Stack – Make 8 lines on one side of the gym leaving a large gaming area (staying in squad lines)
  • Banana Split – Make 16 lines, 8 on each end of the gym leaving a gaming area in the middle (split squad lines in half)
  • Scatter like Ants – Spread out all over the gym
  • Face Off – Stand face-to-face in parallel lines
  • Circle Up – Form one big circle in the middle of the gym
  • All Set – Starts an activity. Students repsond, “You Bet!” and starting playing
  • Freeze, hands on top – Stop with hands on head and say, “that means stop

2. Echoes

Echoes are very similar to commands, in that students complete an action upon hearing them. Although with echoes, the students repeat back the command while completing the action. I find echoes to be a great tool for teaching younger elementary students, PK-1st grade especially.

Echoes are great for keeping student attention and increasing engagement, while helping those lost ones to follow suit. We have all had experience with students who may zone out the teacher’s directions, but when you have a whole gym full of students repeating them, it is a nice way to reengage or redirect negative behaviors. Below is a list of echoes I use with my students.

  • Stand up and freeze –  Students stand up, freeze, and place hands on top of head.
  • Rotate – Rotate through station
  • Turn and Face – Students go from facing one direction to another, south to north, etc.)
  • 180 – Same as turn and face, but with a jump spin
  • 360  Just for fun and to reengage students
  • Eyes on me – Stop and look at me
  • Hands – Students show their hands, Together – Students interlock them together, Lock it – Students place their hand in their lap

3. Sound Effects

Sound effects are a recent addition into our gym and I am having so much fun learning how to teach using them. Sound effects make for a joyful and amusing environment. They also help to keep students engaged and energetic about moving.

Sound effects are when I move my hands a certain way and the students will respond by saying or doing a sound effect. It’s so FUN! When teaching the students the different ways to respond to my hand gestures or movements, its brought new energy into the gym. Below is a list of hand motions I do, followed by the sound effect my students say.

  • Spiral my finger upward to the sky: “Whhhooooo Hoooooo!”
  • Move my hand across the front of the body: “Whoooaaaa!”
  • Fist Pump (waist high): “Yesssss!”
  • Hands on face: “Gasp!”
  • Hands move up and down three times: “Dun-Dun-Dunnnnn!”
    Gopher's Rules of the Gym Banner
    Gopher’s Rules of the Gym Banner

Here is an example of dialog and how I used Sound Effects the other day when teaching a Christmas Dance. “Great Class, you just learned part 1 of Christmas Cookies.” (Whooooo Hooooo!) “But there’s a second part” (Whooooooaaa!) and it’s kind of hard (Gasp!) “If you don’t pay attention to the beat you’ll be lost” (Dun-Dun-Dunnnnn!)

“Now let’s try it to music!” (Yesssss!)

By teaching with commands, echoes, and sound effects, I am able to capture and keep my students attention and most importantly, not waste time. My students know I am a mover and I am a doer. They know when I say or do certain things, they need to respond quickly so we can do more. They are proud we spend most of our time together active and moving.

To sum up great advice I was given by amazing educators: make your expectations known, define them and then raise the bar. Gopher’s Rules of the Gym Banner is a great way to set class expectations from day 1. I believe the more you expect, the better your results will be. I would love to hear your fabulous ideas and great managing tools used in your gym in the comments below.


  • Shannon Jarvis Irwin

    Shannon is a PreK-8 Physical Education Teacher, Coach and Athletic Director in Fort Worth, TX. She is an experienced Presenter and the winner of the Best Activity in America Contest in 2010.

One Response

  1. Hello,
    I have 32 years of Health Enhancement K-5 teaching and still don’t know it all. It’s refreshing to find ideals that I can try and see if to keep them or not. Keep up the good work you do.
    Todd Bertsch
    Sandstone Elem.
    Billings, Mt.

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