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Ideas for class management and organization

This is an excerpt from Health and Physical Education for Elementary Classroom Teachers With Web Resource by Retta Evans & Sandra Sims.

Class Management and Organization


Active classrooms require the teacher to use different class management and organization skills. The following ideas will help you to have a successful and active physical environment in your classroom.


Start and Stop Signals

Establishing and using a clear and consistent signal for starting and stopping is critical in an active environment, particularly if the lesson includes equipment. Some examples of stop activity signals include using a verbal cue such as "freeze," holding a hand up with a finger and using your voice to count down from 5 to 1, clapping a certain rhythm and expecting the students to repeat the rhythm back, and playing music when the students are active and stopping the music when you want the students to freeze. According to Graham, Holt/Hale, and Parker (2012), regardless of the signal the students should know what to do when the signal is given. For example, when the teacher sends the signal of an index finger in the air while counting backward from 5 to 1, the students put equipment down on the floor and look at the teacher.


Grouping Students

Grouping students should not take a lot of time and should never include student captains who choose teams or groups. Teachers can divide students into groups by ability, gender, social compatibility, or size. The most important key to remember is the students need to be in a group size where all students in the group are physically active and not waiting to participate or just observing. Consider these examples of grouping: The students get back-to-back with a partner of similar height; the students connect elbows with two people who have a birthday in the same month; the students find three people with the same color shoes; you distribute color popsicle sticks to the students upon entering the class and group according to the color on the stick; and you group students together who work well together (separating students who often can distract others if they are on the same team). Another way to group students is to use apps that divide the class for you. For example, Team Shake is an excellent app that is easy to use in class with a tablet or smartphone (see Resources for more information).


Appropriate Spacing

Always use the space wisely, with safety as your main priority. One important safety concern is for students to move in similar directions. It eliminates students crossing paths and reduces their risk of running into each other. Always be careful to give specific directions for the activity before sending students out in the space. Yelling the directions to a class while they are moving is not very effective. Bring students in close to give directions, then send them back out to participate in the activity. To change the activity directions, give a signal for all students to come back in to a central location, give the new directions, then send them back out again to practice.


Handling Equipment

Students should not handle equipment while you are talking. Directions at the beginning of an activity are easy to hear, because the students usually do not have equipment yet. However, during the activity when you need to talk, set a rule that equipment is out of the students' hands on your signal. For example, require that on your signal they stop, lower their equipment to the ground, and look at you. This rule will reduce the noise level and will enhance the ability for students to hear what you need to say.


Distributing equipment effectively is a learned class routine where the teacher uses an organized procedure that is not time consuming. Before distributing equipment, specifically state where students should go and what they will do. Place the equipment in several locations so that the students can retrieve the equipment safely and quickly. Another way to distribute equipment is for a group leader to pick up all equipment needed for everyone in the group and then help to distribute it around the perimeter of the activity space. It will allow students to begin participating in the activity as soon as they get to the equipment.


Classroom chairs can be removed and stability balls can be used as chairs instead. This simple change of furniture can help students engage core muscles while they do seat work.
Classroom chairs can be removed and stability balls can be used as chairs instead. This simple change of furniture can help students engage core muscles while they do seat work.


Equipment of all sizes and weights can help students achieve success as well as challenge them. Ideally, students would each have their own equipment. If that is not possible, at least have equipment for every two students. At the end of class, students should have a manageable way of putting away equipment. If you are in stations, the equipment can be left in the stations. The best way to put away equipment after an activity is similar to the method used for distribution. Have partners or group leaders assist in bringing all equipment back to the proper area.


Effective Communication in an Active Setting

An effective communication skill used while teaching in an active environment is to tell the students when to perform the activity before giving the instructions on the activity. For example: "When I say go, I would like for you to . . . " This important communication technique will keep the students listening to the directions to hear the cue to start activity. It will enable you to clearly direct the students on the expectations of the activity before the students get started.


During the instruction time, make sure to position the class to reduce visual distractions (e.g., sun, other classes, disruptive students). As discussed earlier in the chapter, all equipment should be out of the hands of students during all instruction times.


Short instructional episodes help students to concentrate on fewer concepts that they need to practice. According to Pangrazi and Beighle (2013), teachers should refrain from lengthy skill descriptions. Use less than 30 seconds to give one or two instructional points, then send the students to practice those points.


Positive reinforcement and corrective skill feedback are the most important ways you can communicate with your students. Comments such as "Good job" or "Way to go" are general praise comments that are positive but are not specific enough to help a student with skill or behavior improvement. Statements that provide specific feedback are more beneficial. For example, "Good job; I like the way you stepped with opposition to throw the ball." Another example is "Way to go; you are staying on task and working well with your partner." Providing this communication during the activity helps the students know how they are doing and motivates them to hear more positive feedback. It also helps other students learn indirectly.


Other Best Practices for Teaching an Activity Lesson

Following are some other things you can do to make activity lessons run smoothly.

  • Develop routines that you do every time you teach an activity lesson. Besides the routines listed earlier for equipment distribution and start and stop signals, other routines should include where to go at the beginning of the activity (always having an instructional zone), what to do if you get injured, what to do if there is a class emergency, and where to go at the end of the activity lesson.
  • Design activity and practice time to be greater than instruction and management time. Use the short instructional episodes discussed earlier to minimize instruction time. Also use cues for instruction so that students are reminded how to perform the skills needed for the activity. To minimize management time, follow the equipment distribution ideas listed earlier. Setting up fields and nets for games is best completed before the class begins. However, if it is not possible, use groups of students to divide the work for quick setup and takedown.
  • Offer an initial instant activity that involves the class immediately and warms up the muscles. Warm-up is important especially for activities that require quickness, force, or endurance. Instant activities are quick to start and involve movements the students have practiced before, such as walking and jumping rope. Instant activities can also include practicing skills needed for the activities, such as throwing, catching, dribbling, or kicking. The key to successful instant activities is to have little to no instruction time. Students can see the board that lists the activity, and they move to start participating immediately.
  • Use class time effectively by beginning and ending on time. Time is often wasted in long lines, moving equipment, and making transitions from one activity to the other. One way to help is to use small groups or teams to play the activities. It will get students playing faster, and they will get to participate more. Using an app to display the time remaining in the activity will help students to know when activity will start and stop. Following a detailed and organized lesson also helps.
  • Move throughout the lesson so that you can see and help everyone during the activity. Students need to be seen by their teacher. In fact, student behavior will improve if you move around, giving feedback to all students during the activity. Catching a student doing something good is better than catching them off task. Teacher feedback is a critical component to help students improve on-task behavior and skill development.

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Learn more about Health and Physical Education for Elementary Classroom Teachers.