Do You Call Them Games or Activities?

By: Mark Banasiak @MoreThanGym

I was recently involved in a discussion as to whether we should use the word GAME or ACTIVITY in our profession. When you look up their definitions, they are quite similar. Both have multiple definitions with one or more focusing on engagement in physical movement. To me, the word GAME carries too much baggage with it. That is, it carries the idea that all we do is PLAY. I wholeheartedly believe that unstructured play is important for proper child development; however, that is not what occurs in a high quality physical education classroom. We teach our students to PARTICIPATE in ACTIVITIES that are both structured and purposeful.

Because of this distinction, I try my best not to use the word GAME during my instruction. Similarly, I try not to use the word PLAY unless I am encouraging them to be active at home or at recess.

When teaching, I try to use the words PARTICIPATE and ACTIVITY. For example, you may hear me say, “Today, you will participate in the activity Crab Tag (click on it for a free lesson plan).” I know they are just words, but there is a distinction between them in my mind. I think using the words ACTIVITY and PARTICIPATE helps to elevate our profession versus perpetuating the old belief that all we do in the gym is PLAY GAMES.

What do you think? Does using the word ACTIVITY versus GAME or PARTICIPATE versus PLAY really matter?

I love teaching large group activities. I think they are a crucial part of a well-rounded physical education curriculum. Most of the time, I use them as culminating activities at the end of a unit, as a break between units, or on days immediately proceeding/following long weekends/breaks.

When I am selecting or creating large group activities, I look for ones that (in no particular order):

  • Maximize participation and have minimal wait time.
  • Have no end point or prevent time from being wasted while “resetting” equipment.
  • Provide for smooth transitions when taking turns, changing positions, or alternating roles (e.g., offense/defense).
  • Require the students to think resulting in a higher level of student engagement.
  • Call for the students to work with and help one another.
  • Challenge the students to be better by allowing opportunities to both build on successes and learn from mistakes. More importantly, they quickly get another chance to try again.
  • Allow students to engage in healthy competition.
  • Provide an opportunity to apply skills they have recently acquired or review skills they have previously learned.
  • Are fun and exciting.
  • Get their heart rate up.
  • Have multiple rounds.
  • Contain minimal rules.
  • Can be easily replicated during another class.

What criteria do you use when selecting large group activities and deciding if they are appropriate for your class?

What are the large group activities that you cannot wait to teach? I mean the ones that get you giddy. You know the feeling…the same excitement you get when you inflate a brand new playground ball.   These are the activities that you have to stop and remind yourself that you are the teacher because you get so involved in participating with the students.

For me, it is an activity called Treasure Island (click on it for a free lesson plan). This is a high energy and invasion type of activity. It requires the students to work together, get their heart rate up, and have fun. My students love it! In fact, my son wanted to do it at his birthday party.

The idea for this activity came from a session I attended at the annual Share the Wealth PE Conference. This particular session was led by faculty and students from the PE Teacher Education Program at Auburn University and focused on invasion activities. I saw something during that session that created a spark. My brain started rolling, and I eventually created this large group activity. When the students see the scooters placed along the wall and watch me dump the half cones in the center circle, they know they will soon be visiting Treasure Island!

On an interesting side note, I do not get the scooters out until the last PE class in December. Up until that point, the scooters are stacked in the back of the equipment room. This withholding of equipment is intentional. On a day when the students are otherwise wound up and excited, it encourages them to stay on-task if they want to use a scooter (rather than sit in time out). It also creates excitement at the halfway point of the year because now a new door of large group scooter activities has been opened for the second semester.

What is your favorite large group activity? 

I love creating and learning new large group activities. I am always trying something out. A lot of times, I see one that doesn’t quite work for me. In that case, I tweak it just enough to make it work for my program and my students. I encourage you to do the same.

Here are a couple more of my favorite large group activities (click on them for a free lesson plan):

Put a Ring on My Finger

Balance the Bagel

If you are interested in even more of my favorite large group activities, then please check out my eBook (I Teach More Than Gym – Vol. I: A Collection of Elementary PE Activities). It contains 30+ complete lesson plans with diagrams. It is currently available for only $10.

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