Let's face it, running an effective physical activity session with a large group of kids can be challenging to say the least. No matter how prepared you are, things can spiral out of control quickly if you are unable to maintain student attention and engagement throughout the entire session. Once this occurs, being in a large open space such as a gymnasium or outdoors makes it even more difficult, if not impossible, to get things under control and salvage the remaining time and be productive. Don't worry, you tried your best and although stressful for you, at least your students are up moving and hopefully breaking a sweat. If you want the latter without the former, here are a few helpful tips to create more control than chaos during your physical activity sessions.
1) Always begin with a low-organization game.
If the first thing you ask students to do upon entering the gym is sit still and listen, you are almost guaranteed to begin sliding down the slippery slope to chaos. Even if you manage to get through explaining everything, the ensuing activity will begin with confusion because half of the students likely stopped paying attention after 30 seconds.
Beginning every session with a 10 minute moderate to highly aerobic low-organized game that can be explained in 20-30 seconds will help lead to a much more controlled and productive session. This allows students to get rid off all the energy they have built up from prolonged sitting and after 10 minutes, they should be begging to sit-down, rest, and listen. This will provide you with a larger window of opportunity to explain a more complex game or teach some movement skill basics to your students.
Low-organized games typically require no equipment, have very few rules and no teams. Tag games are a great choice for low organized introductory activities. Just remember, the idea is to keep EVERYONE moving lots for 10 minutes, so avoid variations where kids are eliminated or required to stop moving until the game restarts. Here are some helpful resources for low organized game ideas:
2) Use your imagination and be creative when selecting activities.
How often have you heard kids playing games on there own start a sentence with "Let's pretend that...?" That is because kids are much more imaginative and creative than adults, so why on earth would they want to be in a gym running laps when they could "imagine" they are on a volcano running away from a lava monster? This can be a challenge, but if you put some creative thought into how you can make thematic and imaginative games, you will have much more success keeping kids engaged in the activity. If you are having trouble, ask your students to come up with ideas for game themes.
3) Introduce various activity modifications regularly.
Even if you come up with creative themed games, kids will still get bored eventually. Many instructors will try to deal with this by selecting a large variety of activities so they can switch the game every 5-10 minutes. While this is helpful to reduce boredom, it also leads to a lot of physical activity time wasted as you constantly have to group up students, exchange equipment, explain rules, etc. To help negate this, try coming up with a list of ways to modify the main activity to keep it engaging rather than coming up with several new activities. Simple modifications can be things such as adding a new rule that changes the context of the game, introducing a score-based challenge (first group/student to complete ___ will be rewarded with ___), or changing a piece of equipment used during the game. Active Quest is a great physical education app where all the activities come complete with sample modifications.
Using these three tips when planning and running physical activity sessions with large groups of kids should hopefully save you a few gray hairs while also helping students also get the most out of their physical activity time.