There are many options for physical educators to teach their PE curriculum and address district, state and/or national standards. This gives physical education teachers a lot of flexibility in how they present material to their students. Small group games in PE offer many benefits over full-class, large group activities. A small group game in a gym class is any game or activity that may be played by a small collection of students, usually three to eight people. Because the numbers are low, they get more movement opportunities and chances to put a learned skill into practice.
Small group physical education games can be used to teach a wide variety of PE concepts and skills such as hand-eye coordination, footwork, and spatial awareness. They are also an excellent way to promote teamwork, social skills, and leadership. In order to teach children most effectively, PE teachers can separate them into groups based on their skill level and developmental stage. This gives the teacher more time to focus on each group. To keep every student engaged in learning, several small group or class games can be going on at the same time inside the designated learning space.
Why incorporate small group games in a PE class?
Small-group gym games provide a supportive environment that allows for more player-to-player interactions than traditional games. They also give players more opportunities to be successful and feel like valuable members of the group. These games challenge students but tend to be less competitive and therefore can reduce stress levels and create a more positive social atmosphere in the class. When students feel less anxious about their performance (as they might in larger groups), they are more likely to be engaged in fun game and better able to perform the desired skills in a game-like scenario.
In addition, the highlighted PE games in this blog article can directly correlate with SHAPE America Standard 2 which states: The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies and tactics related to movement and performance..* Small group games in PE assist students meet these expectations as well as others that may be determined by a district or state.
Tips for incorporating a small group PE game into your classes
Determine the skills or movement patterns you want your students to practice
Select small group games that allow for practicing these skills and movements in a game-like scenario. They can involve equipment or be equipment-free games
Make sure to utilize engaging games that are developmentally appropriate for your students
Playing area safety is key- make sure students have the space to move around freely and without hazard
Before playing, ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of rules, regulations and boundaries
Have select students demonstrate the game
Encourage students to be active, play fair, and have fun
Keep the gym class game fun and not overly competitive
Stop the game from time to time to redirect behavior or provide rest periods
Have a wrap-up discussion to celebrate accomplishments
Let's take a look at six different small group games you may use in your program now that we know how and why they work for physical education.
1. Catch Ball
Team's work together to make a playground ball bounce 2 times inside another team’s court Skills Used: throwing and catching
1 playground ball per small group of students (8 to 12 students)
Indoor- Gym lines or small cones for court boundaries
Outdoor-Playground chalk for court boundaries
Two square or rectangle courts are set across from each other.
A serving line is set at back right
Game Instructions and Rules
Students spread out inside their side of the court.
This team game begins with a serve from the back right corner into the other teams court- The ball must pass the mid-line on the serve
The object is to get the ball to bounce two times in the other team members court. If the ball bounces once or a player drops it and it bounces once and then they catch it, it is still in play
If the ball is thrown to the other side and it bounces once and then out of bounds, the other team gets the point
If the ball bounces twice (in your own court) at any time before it crosses over to the other side, the other team gets the point. The serve changes after each point and rotates through the entire team
Players can pass it to any other player on their team (while it is live) before it crosses to the other side but if it is dropped and it bounces two times, the other team receives the point. The ball may bounce one time at any time during live play
Teachers should count “ONE” when it bounces the first time to remind students
2. Flash Ball
Game created by Dave Senecal. Find Dave (PEPALOOZA) on TPT here
Players attempt to eliminate other players (playing 1 vs. 1) by throwing a ball into their opponent’s rectangular court without them being able to catch it cleanly.
Skills Used: throwing, catching and tapping
One oversized Wal-Mart plastic ball, Slo-Mo ball, or beach ball per playing group (around 16- 20” ball)
Construct lines to make up the rectangular courts) using chalk, tape or Velcro
The courts should measure around 18' L x 3’ W divided with a mid-line
Multiple games can take place around the gym/field/blacktop at one time
Game Instructions and Rules
One player starts on each side of the rectangular court. A student ref stands off to the side and will rotate into the game
One player starts a rally by serving the ball into the other person’s rectangle with a relatively easy serve that can be cleanly received and then thrown back
The ball must bounce on the other player’s side inside their rectangle
After the bounce, the ball must be caught before it is thrown back to the other side
Players can not throw inside their rectangle. They must play to the side or behind the rectangular-shaped court
“Tap ups” can be used when the ball cannot be cleanly caught- the player can tap the ball up into the air but must catch it before it hits the ground
If the receiving player misses the ball (doesn’t catch it), they are out of the game and join the end of the line waiting to come back in
The ball can hit any outside line and needs to be played by the person that is in that particular rectangle. The mid-line however, cannot be hit. This results as an out
If knocked out of the game, a player joins the line to rotate back into the next open side
Use the next person rotating in as the referee to make the call
3. Paddle 4 Square
An active game where players strike a ball with their paddle or racket in an attempt to eliminate other players and advance to the highest square, becoming the King/Queen.
Skills Used: striking
At least 4 paddles or rackets per small group
1 small bouncy foam ball per small group
Court lines constructed with chalk or tape
Numbers 1 – 4 written in each square
Game Instructions and Rules
One player stands in each of the 4 squares. A line is formed at Square #1 to rotate in.
A server in Square #4 (sometimes known as King/Queen square) drops the ball and then hits it underhand with the paddle into another square
The person receiving the serve hits the ball with the paddle back into any other person’s square and the “rally” continues until someone gets knocked out of the game by 1. Hitting any of the “inside” lines, 2. Hitting the ball out of bounds, 3. Hitting the ball before letting it bounce at least once inside their square, 4. Touching the ball with anything other than the paddle or 5. Hitting the ball after it landed in someone else’s square without letting them hit it first
The ball can hit any outside line and needs to be played by the person that is in that particular square. The inside lines however, cannot be hit- hitting an inside line results in an out
If knocked out of the game, a player joins the line to rotate back into Square #1
Use the next person rotating in as the referee to make the call in the next rally
Video courtesy of Andrew Wymer. Find Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewWyner10s
4. Pin Ball
Two teams play against each other as each team of players work together to toss a foam ball or flying disc at the other team's bowling pin at the end of their court in an attempt to knock it down. Skills Used: throwing, catching
1 ball per small group (yarn ball, foam ball or Frisbee)
4 cones or gym lines to mark off a playing area/court
2 hula hoops at each end of the Court
2 Bowling pins or empty 2 Liter’s (placed inside the hula hoop)
Game Instructions and Rules
Students spread out inside their side of the court to start. (3 vs 3 or 4 vs 4 works well).
One team begins with the ball and attempts to pass the ball down the court and shoot the ball to knock over the pin set inside the other team’s hoop
A player with possession of the ball cannot travel with it. They can pivot and make 1 step toward their target (a teammate or the pin) but cannot advance themselves up the court
“Complete” passes must be made to keep possession. If the ball drops to the floor, possession goes to the other team at that exact point
There is no contact whatsoever in the game on defense
If a team makes connecting passes down the court and is able to get an accurate shot that knocks down the other team’s pin, they are awarded 1 point
Games go for a set time or until a team scores “10 points” first
5. Intercept (Indoor and Outdoor Game)
A simple game where one team of players pass a soccer ball around a field or gym while another team attempt to throw a separate ball to hit it while it is rolling. Skills Used: kicking, throwing, fielding
1 soccer ball per small group
1 gator skin ball per small group
Game Instructions and Rules
Students spread out in small teams on a grassy field or large gym (2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 work best)
One team starts with the soccer ball and they pass it back and forth to each other on the ground in a specified area, using only their feet
The other team tries to hit the soccer ball with their ball, using a Nerf or gator skin.
When the soccer ball is struck, the teams exchange roles and execute the opposite activity.
The team with the Nerf or gator skin ball cannot run with the ball but must advance it by throwing it a teammate in an attempt to get closer to the soccer ball
6. Rescue Me
A creative game where one team of players pass footballs (or other type of balls) past another team to the opposing end zone. where teammates wait to catch and throw the ball and are ultimately rescued. Skills Used: throwing, catching
Equipment and Playing Zone
Several balls (footballs, Nerf balls, Frisbees, etc.) per playing group
Cones or lines to mark playing areas and end zones
The game is played in small groups of 12 – 16 (6 – 8 per team)
Several balls are dispersed on each side of the playing area
The playing area is divided with a mid-line and 2 end-zone lines approximately 30 to 50 feet apart
Game Instructions and Rules
Teams put half of their players in their side of the playing area and the other half go behind the other teams end-zone.
Each team attempts to save their teammates from the other team’s end zone by throwing them a ball
The players in the opposing end zone must make a “complete’ catch in the air that is thrown from one of their teammates
If they catch it they must throw the same ball back to any one of their teammates in their “home playing area”, back across the mid-line
If a player makes a successful catch and then throws the ball from the end zone line back across the mid-line to their home playing area and it is caught, they are RESCUED
They then join their teammates in their “home playing field” and attempt to save the remaining players on the other team's side of the end zone
If a ball is not caught, it is thrown back to either playing area and the process is repeated again
A team wins when everyone on their squad has been rescued!
Now that you know about these six small group PE games, it's time to put them into action with your class. Not only are these games fun, but they also aid in developing students' throwing, catching, foot dribbling and striking skills. Before beginning any game, it is essential that students have the right equipment and are familiar with the rules. Correct and encourage your students as they work together in their class teams. Make sure to rotate the games on a regular basis so that students don't get bored. Most importantly, have fun! With a little preparation, you can easily add these games to your physical education class and provide a beneficial learning experience for your students.
Do you have any favorite small group games for PE? Let us know in the comments below!
Need some FREE physical education games?
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1. PE Base Games, 2. PE Basketball Games, 3. PE Soccer Games, 4. PE Volleyball/Net Games, 5. PE Disc Games, and 6. PE Small Group Multi-skill Games
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