Increasing the Physical in PE

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

Physical Education is in its nature a practical subject. Whilst I have a deep rooted belief that we need to impart knowledge about our subject to students, we need to do it in the most practical way possible. We need to give our students as much time to run, jump, throw, catch, kick, and hit as possible but also understand how and why to do those things. We want to give them as much time to explore their body and what it is capable of. Most importantly we want to give them as much time to understand that the body is as just as important as the mind and in fact both look after each other.

In a recent post I looked at how much time my students actually spent ‘doing’ PE. It was an interesting process and whilst my own personal findings weren’t as bad as the hyperbole in the tabloids were suggesting I felt there was room for improvement. I took to Twitter and raised it at my next PE Departmental meeting. Thanks to Michael Davison (@davisonpe) who had a big contribution to this post and Russell Grant (@russgrant82) for his excellent idea. These are the suggestions:

Limited Changing Time – Set pupils time limits to get changed, see if they can beat this time and set records. Make it part of the lesson. 3 minutes is a good target time.  In my very first placement school, many years ago, students only had three minutes to change and had to do so in complete silence (it was that type of school). At Russel’s school they are trialling 1-3-7. This is where the main lesson objective is given within the first minute of the lesson, within 3 minutes everyone is expected to be changed and within 7 minutes everyone is expected to be active.

Independence – If it is ok within your department, encourage pupils to get changed for lessons early over lunch/break etc. If they are there and ready to go at the bell it means maximum lesson time. Obviously follow your departmental procedures, but this might be a useful one to discuss and trial.

Stop Watch – Have a stop watch in your hand. Every time the whole class ‘stops’ , start the watch. See what time is on it at the end. Alternatively give every pupil in the class a stop watch. Every time they stop they have to start the watch. Get the class together at the end and see who has moved/stood still the most.

TimeMotion App – This App measures movement and type of movement in Games Players. Pick a student in your lesson and do a TimeMotion analysis on them (you will be able to graph results at the end). This will give you an overview of the activity levels in the class. This is a useful tool when observing other teachers or ITT students. (Im definitely going to try this one out with my Year 9 football group on Monday).

Individual Targets – This works well in games activities but can be used across all sports. Keep your lesson objectives as normal but try to encourage a high number of touches, passes, shots by each pupil in the lesson. For example in a Basketball lesson, the warm up activity could be to set groups the targets of completing 50 – 100 passes. In a Football lesson, challenge the pupils to have 100 touches of the ball etc. Maximum activity time for all!!

Outside of the Lesson – Where possible Set Up/Prepare Equipment before hand, know your numbers (pupils), know your class, know your lesson!! If you have a colleague who is teaching before you, check what they are doing. Perhaps you can use the equipment they’ve set up, this can increase time for being physical in both your lessons.

Teach Sport-specific warm-up – spend some time teaching specific warm-ups to students, especially in Year 7. Have pupils lead them and this can give you time to set up equipment if you need to.

White board in changing room – where you can write lesson instructions for example; bib colour, equipment responsibilities, lesson objectives to read whilst changing. This can help speed the whole process up.

Pupils set in teams – this is one I use a lot and has really helped speeding up my lessons and ensuring maximum activity where possible. For further details check out my previous blog post – seating plan for Core PE.

Keep whole class talking to  30 seconds – Where possible try to keep whole class talking set to 30 seconds. If you have a phone set a 30 second count down set to play some music (I’d go for Thunderstruck by ACDC) and when the music goes off, put your class back into the activity.

Never give more than 3 teaching points at a time – try to keep them brief, to the point and related to the activity. This is an area I know I can improve even after 14 years of teaching. I’ve also found recently with weaker students that even 3 teaching points is too much, narrow it down to one area to focus on. Keep them moving and practicing.

Give 1 to 1 feedback or group feedback where possible – sometimes it will be far better to spend your timing talking to individuals who require your help than calling the whole class in. I find when talking to the whole class about ‘common errors’ they don’t think you are talking about them. This ensures all the other students are active and pupils get specific feedback.

Move an individual or group on to the next session, use them as demo for other groups – If an individual or a group are finding what they are doing easy/a struggle then move them on to something different without stopping the whole class. A lot of students really like this, and for those who get given something harder to do they see this as a form of praise. You can then use that individual or group as a demo to help speed up your transitions. (Try where possible not to always use the same individual or group though).

Plan for small sided activities  – obviously resources, space, equipment and student numbers have a big effect on this. However, as much as possible look to plan activities that are small sided and have all students active at the same time, rather than the traditional drills, where students are waiting for their turn.

Have an ‘intensive practice’ area set-up – this is linked to the point above. If students require extra help you can take them out of their activity for a ‘intensive practice’ whilst the rest of the class are still being physical active. For example a 3 v 2 passing game in rugby. Two students need work on their passing. Take them both out and get them to pass 50 times to each other, focusing on the key teaching points. The others can make it a 2 v 1 game or join another group till the intensive practice has finished.

Have ground staff paint squares   –  We have 10 by 10m, 15 by 15m and 20 by 20m grids painted in certain areas of our fields. You don’t just have to do this with squares but potentially with cricket areas etc. This one saves a huge amount of set-up time. It also helps with transitions as well if moving from small sided activities to larger ones.

Use Edmodo, email lists etc. – a colleague of mine who uses Edmodo posts in advance what they are doing and what equipment they need for that lesson. He assures me this saves time in the lessons, especially as it it now routine for students to check at home.

All PE lessons should have high quality activity time, if they are planned well and are constructed to achieve an intended outcome. Routines are an essential part of achieving this, try to find something that works for your and your students and then make it stick. Too many times resources, activities and ‘gimmicks’ are used for the sake of it, rather than with a desired purpose towards the outcome. If you know what you want the outcome of the lesson to be, then everything in that lesson should be focused towards achieving that outcome. If it does not have a purpose it should not be in there.

13 thoughts on “Increasing the Physical in PE

  1. This is a great post and should be a big goal for PE teachers. Instant activities that are games the students already know are great for elementary. After 5-7 minutes of high intensity I feel comfortable giving 3-4 teaching points while they catch their breath.


    1. A rugby coach I greatly respected had a similar approach. He would only have about 8 stock games/drills. His teams new them inside and out so could set up very quickly when he called out the name. Of those 8 stock games/drills he probably have about 20 variations on each to look at developing different skills. This sped the whole session up and kept his teams active and practicing. This then also gave him more time to speak to individual players and either help their understanding or technique.


  2. Thanks for the ideas, at our school the primary children go from class to class independently just like in secondary school. This means that they make their own way to the changing rooms from wherever they are, which is often another specialist lesson. The changing rooms are not particularly near the PE facilities, so we end up with the keen beans ready to go within a few mins, then the rest of the class come after that with the stragglers often being up to 10 minutes late for lessons. We do not have reward systems in our school and therefore makes it difficult to motivate them. Any ideas for how to solve this?


    1. Hi Lianne. My suggestion would be to start your sessions with play that can be easily organised by those that turn up early. Hopefully this might motivate those that are slow. However you are much more aware of your students and your context then I would be, so you would no better what might make them moving. it is a little easier within my school as we have a whole school behaviour and sanction policy, so lateness to a lesson would be dealt with as a whole school issue (through a clear system) rather than as a departmental or individual teacher issue. What do you do at the moment to ensure this doesn’t happen?


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