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Culturally diverse challenges offer a supportive atmosphere

This is an excerpt from Urban Physical Education by Rhonda Clements & Amy Meltzer-Rady.

Culturally Diverse Cooperative Challenges


Origin and Purpose

This activity presents 12 culturally diverse cooperative challenges that have origins (or are very well liked) in various countries. The challenges can help students develop a sense of balance, agility, and physical conditioning within a supportive atmosphere. Students work in small or large groups to solve a common problem or goal. Individuals are responsible for following and giving directions, showing sensitivity toward their peers' limitations, and taking part in the group decision-making process. Elements of trust should be emphasized.

Activity Area

Small or large groups scattered throughout the activity space


None or very limited; see specific challenges

Teaching Process

1. For the first six challenges, divide the students into groups of four. The remaining challenges involve larger groups.

2. Explain that the concept of teamwork has always included everyone on a team and that the 12 cooperative challenges require teamwork.

3. Circulate throughout the playing space and use a different group of students to demonstrate each of the challenges while reinforcing the cooperative aspect needed to fulfill the task.

Challenges for Groups of Four

1. Group Swedish sitting: Students form a circle, grasping wrists with their arms extended. On the count of four, they assume a squatting position and lean backward so as not to lose their balance while still maintaining grasped wrists and the circle formation.

2. Italian group tower: Students are given a piece of chalk (or tape) and use their bodies to place a chalk mark as high as possible on the side of a wall by carefully lifting and climbing on each other's bodies.

3. Jamaican hand-foot walk: Students line up one behind the other in a push-up position. The last player in the line walks on his hands and feet (maintaining the push-up position) while moving forward to the front of the line. The player now at the end moves to the front in the same way and so on until the entire line of four players has moved at least three times to advance forward.

4. Egyptian team tagalong: The first student runs to a designated marker (a distance of 40 feet [12 m] or more) and returns to the starting line. Then the second student in line grasps the first student's waist from behind. These two students run to the designated area and return to add a third student, who grasps the waist of the second runner. Action continues until all students in the line are holding the waist of the individual in front of them and all four students have completed the run.

5. English group balance: The four students line up and balance on one leg while holding the ankle of the person in front of them. To help with balance, the second, third, and fourth students in line rest their free hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. Each group must coordinate a hopping movement and advance forward 15 feet (4.6 m).

6. Swiss toboggan ride: The four students sit in a line with their legs in a V shape. On the teacher's signal, each student lifts her legs slightly off the floor so that the student in front can grab them. The group must find the best way to move a distance of 10 feet (3 m).

Challenges for Larger Groups

7. English pinball wizard: Groups of four students form a circle and grasp wrists. A fifth student stands in the middle of the small circle representing a pinball. The pinball (standing very stiffly) is carefully moved around the circle by leaning against the arms of his peers.

8. Irish group catch: Three sets of partners (six players) reach across each other to grasp interlocking hands to form a net while one student, standing straight with tightened muscles, falls slowly forward into the net of hands.

9. Greek tossing circle: This challenge uses tennis balls or small playground balls. Groups of four to six players form a circle. Each group has one ball. Slowly the students in the circle begin to move clockwise while one student tosses the ball vertically in the air to be caught by the student moving into his position. The goal is for each group to complete 8 to 10 full revolutions while moving in the circle formation without dropping the ball.

10. U.S. four by seven: Groups of seven students are asked to move 25 feet (7.6 m) across an area using only four or six points of contact with the floor. This requires the students to explore the best way to complete the task, since at least one of them will not be able to touch the floor.

11. English carousel: Groups of 10 to 12 students form a circle and grasp each other's wrists. Students count off by 1s and 2s. Slowly, the 1s lean backward while the 2s lean forward in a balanced position.

12. Paper tag from Sweden: One student is given a long, thin strip of paper. This individual chases other class members, who flee. When a person is tagged by the chaser, the strip of paper is torn into two halves. The student who was tagged is given one of the torn halves and becomes another chaser, cooperating to tag other classmates. The activity continues until all but one student is in the role of chaser. The last person to be tagged is the winner. This person initiates the second game with a new long strip of paper.


Ask the students why it was important to cooperate and assist each other in each of the activities.

Culturally Diverse Stretching and Exercise Challenges


Origin and Purpose

Many exercise and stretching activities have evolved since the early Greek Olympics when the concept of athletic competition had its roots. In the following challenges, students participate in a variety of stretching and exercise tasks originating from culturally diverse populations.

Activity Area

Partners and small groups scattered throughout the activity space


None or very limited; see specific challenges

Teaching Process

1. For the first 10 challenges, divide the students into partners. The remaining challenges involve larger groups.

2. Explain that the term exercise refers to a series of movements or actions that are repeated for the purpose of increasing the level of a person's physical health and for greater movement efficiency.

3. Circulate throughout the playing space and use a different set of partners to demonstrate each of the stretching and exercise challenges. Reinforce the particular health-related aspect that each exercise or stretch involves.

Challenges for Partners

1. Japanese push-ups: To perform a judo or karate push-up, the student bends his body in an upside-down V shape, with hands and feet spread apart at least 2 feet (.6 m) and knees slightly bent. He slowly rises up on the toes, bends the elbows, and while making an upward swooping motion arches the body forward with the head up and then returns to the starting position (see photos). One student performs 10 push-ups while his partner counts to 10 in Japanese. 1 = ichi (itchy); 2 = ni(knee); 3 = san (sun); 4 = shi (she); 5 = go (go); 6 = roko (rocko); 7 = shichi (shi-chi); 8 = hachi (hat-chi); 9 = kyu (coo); 10 = ju (ju).

2. African taia-ya-taia (tie-ya-tie): One partner assumes the role of a chaser. The second partner stands approximately 20 feet (6 m) away. On signal, both partners balance on one foot. The chaser's goal is to tag his partner, who is trying to escape by hopping on one foot. Roles are exchanged after the first student is tagged. This is an excellent cardiovascular challenge when repeated several times.

3. Alaskan hands and feet race: One partner gets into push-up position, with the arms and legs straight. The objective is to move forward while maintaining this stiff push-up position with the body straight. The first partner performs the stunt for 5 feet (1.5 m) or until fatigued. The second partner begins from the spot where the first partner stopped. Partners take turns advancing forward for a total distance of 10 feet (3 m).

4. U.S. triangle stretch: Students stand approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) apart, facing their partners, and both extend their arms forward pressing palm to palm. While leaning forward, both individuals slowly step backward approximately three steps. Partners stay in this position for 5 seconds.

5. U.S. partner push-up challenge: Both students assume the push-up position, with arms bent and the chest close to the floor. One student places his feet with the toes down on his partner's back. The student whose feet are placed on the other student's back is in a perpendicular position to the other student. Both students push upward into a push-up position for 5 seconds. The students then exchange roles.

6. Mexican plima: This challenge uses foam balls. Partners stand 20 feet (6 m) apart facing each other. One student is given a foam ball to aim toward his partner. The objective is for the partner to avoid being touched by a rolled, tossed, or thrown ball by dodging, ducking, or leaping into the air. Partners exchange roles after five throws.

7. Peru clock skipping game: This challenge uses a 16-foot (5 m) jump rope. Two students begin the activity by swinging the rope. Other sets of partners, standing side by side, form a line facing the rope. The first set of partners runs under the rope for zero, the second set jumps once, the third set jumps twice, and so on, until 12 jumps have been completed. If any set of partners misses a jump or trips on the rope, the game starts over at zero.

8. Swedish sawing wood: Partners stand facing each other on any line marked on the floor. Their knees are slightly bent and their feet point toward each other. On the teacher's signal, they interlock fingers and raise their hands to chest height. Still straddling the line, they pump their arms back and forth to imitate the action of sawing wood. The object is to remain on the line while doing the sawing motion.

9. German handshake: Partners are face-to-face in the push-up start position. They are challenged to perform one push-up. After each push-up, they lift one hand and perform a handshake, then repeat. The point is to see how many handshakes they can perform before tiring.

10. U.S. multiplicity stretches: Open-ended questions or suggestions prompt partners to perform an exercise in any way they choose, and the results can be endless. For example, the teacher might challenge them to perform an exercise while bending at the waist; they might respond by touching their toes, doing a sit-up, or executing side stretches. These are examples of other questions or instructions:

  • Can you demonstrate an exercise that requires you and your partner to move your arms quickly?
  • Show me an exercise done in a sitting position.
  • Is it possible to keep your feet very still and exercise only your upper body?
  • Let's see an exercise that requires you to use both arms and legs.
  • Show me an exercise that involves twisting or turning.
  • Create an exercise that stretches the biceps.

Challenges for Groups of 8 to 12

11. Greek group push-ups: This challenge uses tennis balls or small playground balls. Divide the students into groups of 8 to 10.Each group forms a line, with the students standing shoulder to shoulder, and everyone assumes a push-up position. The first student in the line stands and rolls a ball under the others. That student immediately drops to a push-up position. The last person in line jumps up and stands waiting for the ball. As soon as it is retrieved, the player runs to the front of the line and rolls the ball. He or she then drops down into the push-up position at the front of the line, while the last person in the back stands up to catch the rolling ball. The action is repeated with the next person at the front of the line. Individuals in the push-up position can lower their bodies to rest while the last person with the ball is running to the front.

12. Chinese rope kicking: This challenge uses long jump ropes. Organize the students into groups of 8 to 12. One set of partners holds a long jump rope (12-16 feet or 3.7-5 m) so that it is 3 to 4 feet (.9 to 1.2 m) above the ground. All other students stand in a line facing the rope. The first student approaches the rope head-on and raises one leg to tap it with a single foot. After all students have had one turn, the rope is raised 3 inches (7.6 cm) higher. Individuals continue to take turns to discover how high the rope can be raised before they can no longer swing one leg up and make contact with it. Whenever this happens or when a student approaches the rope and chooses not to try, he simply bows to the rope and steps aside until one student remains who can jump up and make a successful tap.


Reinforce that one goal of a high-quality physical education program is for students to participate regularly in physical activity. Ask the students if they believe the notion that stretching and exercise are desired goals of people throughout the world and not just professional athletes.

Culturally Diverse Fitness Challenges


Origin and Purpose

Forms of physical activity challenges have existed in all cultures as a way to condition the body for greater health and physical ability. Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler before he became the president of the United States. The Asian culture used combative challenges in their martial arts training. In these culturally diverse fitness challenges, partners and small groups are asked to perform tasks involving pushing, pulling, reaction time, and strength. The word challenge originated in 14th-century English, meaning “inviting to a contest.”

Activity Area

Partners scattered throughout the activity space


None or very limited; see specific challenges

Teaching Process

1. Explain that partners will challenge each other's fitness level by performing tasks involving pushing, pulling, reaction time, and strength.

2. Begin the activities by having each student select a partner of similar height and body type.

3. For each activity, ask one set of partners to demonstrate the activity and then have all other partners repeat the challenge.

4. Handshakes should precede each challenge.

5. Whenever possible, reinforce the definition of the given fitness element (e.g., “The first set of challenges focuses on pushing. When we push something, we are moving something away by pressing or exerting force against it”).

Challenges Involving Pushing

Push: to move something away by pressing or exerting force against it.

1. German bulldozer: Partners stand facing each other with their left shoulders touching (see photo). On the teacher's signal, each attempts to push the other in such a way that she steps backward.

2. Chinese hawk: Partners each raise their left foot and grasp it from behind with their left hand to hop on one leg. The right arm remains free but is bent at the elbow and placed behind the back. On the teacher's signal, partners enter a 6-foot (1.8 m) circle, shake hands, and begin the challenge. The object is for each partner to use her shoulder to push the other outside the circle or to force the individual to take a step.

3. Luto de galo (loo-tah day gahlo): This challenge uses handkerchiefs or strips of paper. In this game, which is played in Brazil and Portugal, partners try to snatch a handkerchief (a rooster's tail) from the opponent's back pocket using only one hand while hopping on one foot. Players defend their rooster tail by dodging and twisting.

Challenges Involving Pulling

Pull: to move apart by exerting force.

4. American Indian standing hand wrestle: Partners stand facing each other with their right feet touching and their right hands clasped. On the teacher's signal, they attempt to pull each other forward until one causes the other to lift her back foot.

Challenges Involving Reaction Time

Reaction time: the ability to respond quickly and accurately.

5. Japanese knee touch: Partners start by facing each other and attempt to touch or tap each other's knee before their own knee is tapped three times.

6. Spanish foot tag: Partners attempt to use their feet to touch the feet of the other person before their own feet are touched three times.

7. German push-up breakdown: Partners are face-to-face in a push-up position. The object is to cause the other person to break down by grasping the partner's arm in such a way that she cannot maintain the push-up position.

8. English hot hands: Partners stand facing each other. One student places her hands out in front of her body (palms facing downward). The other student places her hands behind her back. This student attempts to bring her hands around her body and slap her partner's hands. The student with her hands outstretched tries to pull them away before her partner can slap them. Each student has three attempts before the roles change.

Challenges Involving Strength

Strength: to exert force for an extended time.

9. American Indian leg wrestling: Partners lie on a mat side by side with their feet in opposite directions. Their right hips should be aligned. Partners interlock right arms. On the teacher's signal, the students raise their right legs until their toes touch. On a second signal, the action is repeated. On the third signal, the students hook legs and try to roll their partner over to their own side of the mat.

10. English dragon's lair: Use chalk or tape to mark a 5-foot (1.5 m) circle on the floor. The circle represents the dragon's lair. Partners stand on opposite sides of the lair. On signal, the players run around the circle, meet, and have 30 seconds to try to pull or push the other into the dragon's lair without having their own body enter the circle.

11. Greek flip the turtle: One partner lies facedown with legs and arms stretched outward in a large, wide shape to form a turtle (see photo). The second player has 30 seconds to try to move or flip the turtle onto her back.

12. Egyptian tug-of-war: Begin by having four players shake hands. Two players form a rope by having one player clasp his or her arms around the other's waist. The other set of players face the first set and do the same. The inside players grab hands while straddling a line on the floor. On the teacher's signal, both sets of partners try to pull the other team over the line.


Ask the students which of the activities presented the greatest challenge given their current level of fitness.

Learn more about Urban Physical Education.

More Excerpts From Urban Physical Education



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