Questioning for games based approaches

Fundamentally a Games Based Approach to teaching sport is a positive learner centred approach. The focus is on the ‘how to play’, rather than the ‘what to do’. Generally teachers use them to improve game playing understanding and ability, increase pupil motivation and to provide a positive experience of learning. There are many variants of Games Based approaches such as Teaching Games for Understanding (UK), Game Sense (Australia), Tactical Games (US), however there are two key similarities that are at the heart of all Games Based Approaches:

  1. Focus is on the game instead of decontextualised techniques; to locate learning within modified games or game like activities (designing games)
  2. The management of discussions, interactions and problem solving through open questioning. (developing productive and generative questions)

Both the game design and questioning aspects of a Games Based Approach are a key reasons why it is promoted as such a positive method of teaching within PE. However they are also its key problem to successful implementation.

Two recent pieces of research on this area offer some very practical solutions to overcome the issues teachers face with questioning, to ensure that the are thought provoking and stimulate further discussion and questions for the students themselves. They offer 4 suggestions to move away from yes/no response questions to ‘metaprocess’ questions that ask for different kinds of knowledge and can prompt longer and more complex responses.

1 – Question Starters:

As teachers you can prepare question starters in advance. They can then also be adapted to most situations that you observe within the game play. They should be beyond just recall questions and should prompt some form of structured reflection opportunity.

  • How are you deciding…..
  • How could you improve…..
  • What is the most important thing…..
  • If you…..what might happen?

2 – The ‘debate’ of ideas:

Through tactical timeouts individuals/teams can ask themselves the following questions (written on a resource) to generate answers and discussions:

  • Can you identify the particular strengths of your opposition team?
  • What things did you do to cope with these strengths in the previous game?
  • What sort of things does your team need to do to counteract the strengths of the opposition team?
  • How will you do what you have mentioned in question 3 in order to be effective in the next part of the game?

The teacher would listen to the conversations and if they felt it was a topic that would be useful to go into more detail, could use probing questions to illicit further answers, for example, “Please tell me more about that” or “What happened then?”

3 – The reflective toss

A student is encouraged to give their perspective of the game play they have just taken part in. This statement could be generated by a start question. The teacher then acts as a facilitator, offering various prompts and probes to the students in order to stimulate further debate and discussion, thus creating an environment for higher-order thinking:

  • How have we been doing in regards to that aim?
  • Can somebody explain more about that?
  • Aside from changing the rules of the game, what might be some strategies we can use to help us?
  • How do other people feel about that?
  • Would you mind demonstrating what you mean for us so it’s clear for everyone?

4 – The GROW model

A model used in coaching (both business and sport) that offers a framework for both the teacher and the students to follow to develop discussion and ideas.

  • Step 1: Establish the goal of the activity
  • Step 2: Examine the reality: here the students would describe what they are experiencing within the game.
  • Step 3: Explore the options/obstacles: in this step the students can discuss what else they could do to reach their goal and what changes need to occur.
  • Step 4: Establish the way forward: in the final part of the framework, the discussion is converted into a decision/action plan for the next bout of game play.

Whilst the GROW MODEL is a prescriptive method, once a teacher is comfortable with implementing it, it can allow for flexibility in generating open questions.

Implementing the questioning methods

Harvey and Light (2015) offer a very practical and sensible way to implement the above questioning methods based around 6P’s – (1) purpose, (2) play, (3) pause, (4) prepared, (5) probing, and (6) (action) plan.

(1) Provide a purpose question to the game before the students begin to play, which helps makes the focus of the game explicit to students.

(2) Let the students play the game to understand the opportunities and constraints it provides

(3) Pause the game at an appropriate time, preferable with a small group, rather than the whole class.

(4) Use prepared questions, to illicit discussion, dialog, debate and reflection.

(5) Facilitate the discussion through the use of probing questions.

(6) Get the students to formulate an action plan to implement into the game.

Repeat 2-6

Finish with team/class questioning to review learning.


These practical ways of developing questioning during Games Based Approaches do not need to be solely focused on the cognitive domain of the sport or physical education. They can easily be adapted to generate discussion around the social or affective domains as well. It takes the students beyond the simple memorisation and recall of facts, which although important within PE, can allow more complex forms of thinking associated with application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and creation to occur. Finally they can also be used to help students to understand what physical aspects they might need to improve to become more effective games players and give them a sense of autonomy and responsibility to take control and improve them, both in and outside class.

7 thoughts on “Questioning for games based approaches

  1. I Love using this approach in phys ed – lessons almost always seem more engaging, active, educational and transferable.. But there really is an ‘art’ to asking questions and ‘facilitating discussion’ – skills Im still developing through planning, practice and self reflection.


    1. Moving our role to ‘facilitator’ rather than a more traditional ‘content deliverer’ within PE is difficult. I find it requires me to design better tasks, ask better questions and actually require a deeper knowledge of the activity. They challenge me to become a better PE teacher in many ways. Your point about planning, practice and self reflection is astute. If these approaches are to become both more widespread in implementation and better in delivery we need to take on the role as a teacher inquirer. Through this cyclic process you describe is the only way to develop ourselves and our application.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Very well written and explained. I am starting an Invasion Games unit on Monday using the TGFU model and this is brilliant. I’ve been using this model only for a few years and love to keep reading and learning about it.
      Thanks for sharing it!


      1. Hi Letitia, thanks for the feedback. How did you Unit go? What did the pupils learn from it? What did you learn from it? What would you keep/change next time you do it again?


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