Running Games for P.E.
As a P.E. teacher I prefer games where nobody is waiting for a turn. In my dream land there should never be a P.E. game played where a bunch of kids are standing in line (or sitting on a bench) waiting for their turn to kick a ball, swing a bat, or toss a Frisbee. I have nothing against kicking balls or tossing Frisbee's, I have a big problem with waiting in line. Kids stand around all day long, they stand in line to go to class and they stand in line to go to lunch. In class they are supposed to sit still and not fidget. P.E. is the one class in the entire school where they are supposed to be active! So why do we see so many P.E. classes where the kids are standing around, waiting for a turn to do something? Perhaps it is because the teacher does not know enough great games that involve all their students. Two great games that involve everyone are Shark Shark, and Capture the Flag.
Shark Shark is a great game for the lower grades but can be played in the uppers (kids might groan about it, but they’ll love it once they start). Capture the flag is a very sophisticated game that is excellent for the upper grades, but can be taught to the lower grades as well.
Grade Level: K-6
Number of Kids: 10-30
Type: Running/Tagging game
Boundaries: Some kind of rectangle.
How to Win: be the last “fish alive”
This is hands-down the best game to play if you have no equipment or little time. It’s a great game that can be played happily with no variations for about 30 minutes.
This game is best played on the basketball court, although any large rectangle or square will do. Essentially you just need two end-zones with an ‘out of bounds’ area on the sides. Have all the kids line up on one end of your field. Make sure they are all in line, with their feet together, toes on the line. Choose one child to be the “shark”. Explain to the children that everyone standing on the line is a “fish” and the person standing in the center of the field (it’s nice to use a basketball court because the center has a circle) is the “shark”. The shark must catch fish by tagging them. The fish run past the shark and make it safely to the other side of the court.
The fish must all chant together “Shark, Shark, may we please cross your ocean?”
The shark then must should either “yes” or “no”. The shark should respond with “no” if any of the children are not in proper formation (Lined up nicely both feet and toes on the line. Everyone should chant in unison.) if the shark says “yes” then all the children must run to the other side of the court, avoiding the shark. If a fish is caught (tagged) by the shark, the fish gets transformed into “seaweed”. Seaweed is completely immobile. The fish should freeze exactly where caught and cannot move it’s feet at all. Seaweed is allowed to move it’s hands. On the subsequent run (when the surviving fish run the opposite direction) it’s seaweeds job to help the shark by catching kids who run too close.
Eventually all the kids turn into seaweed except one. This creates a really cool obstacle course for the surviving fish. The last person left is the winner, and gets to be the shark for the next round.
Any fish running out of bounds is automatically seaweed (or benched, your choice).
Seaweed’s feet are completely immobile except for in-between rounds, they may turn about-face in order to face the oncoming fish.
- multiple sharks
- surfer dude -- carries a football (or any kind of ball really) and if tossed to a seaweed and successfully caught, that seaweed is transformed back into a fish. If the ball is taken by the shark, surfer dude gets reverted to normal fish. Whoever has the ball is the surfer dude.
Capture the Flag
Grade level: 2-6 (1st grade is possible but more difficult)
Number of Kids: 20-50
Type: Running/Tagging game
Boundaries: Some kind of rectangle, with a line down the middle.
Equipment: Vests, two flags, cones to make the center boundary (not required but very helpful)
How to Win: Capture the other teams flag!!
Divide your kids into two teams. It’s best to have brightly colored vests so it’s very clear who is on which team.
Each team gets one half of the field as their base. Within each base you must have two structures, Jail and the Flag. The flag must be placed prominently for everyone on both teams to view. It should be at the back of the base. The jail must also be prominently in view and also at the back of the base, it should not be too close to the flag.
The object of the game is to run across to the other teams base, grab their flag and run it back. The flag cannot be thrown or passed.
If you are tagged in the other teams base then you automatically go to “jail”. Once in jail you are stuck until one of your teammates comes and rescues you by tagging your hand. Once freed from jail you receive a “free-walk” back to your side. Any child on “free-walk” must signify it by raising both hands up over their head and walking back to their side. Any child pretending to be on “free-walk” in order to invade the other side should be punished with either laps or bench time.
When a player from a team successfully runs to the other side, grabs the flag and runs back to their side without being tagged, they score 1 point for their team. Blow your whistle, call the kids back to their sides and play another round!
That’s the gist of it. Here is how general game play looks like.
In a beginning game
- all the hot-shot runners go sprinting for the flag. They either end up in jail or win very quickly. If they do win quickly they will end up in jail a few rounds later (when the defending team gets wise on defense)
- a bunch of kids just have fun playing “neener neener neener on the baseline
- a few smarter kids will try to use tactics like diversions etc to get the flag
- as soon as a few kids are in jail screaming “save me” most of the teams effort gets shifted to saving their friends vs getting the flag
In an intermediate game
- kids will make up rules like “chaining” for jail. I support this one, if kids all hold hands and make a human chain, they can stretch out away from jail as long as one person is still touching it. This can make it significantly easier to get freed from jail.
- kids group together frequently to make “plans”
In the advanced game
- one team learns that a really good defense wins. By being extremely patient, one team will eventually hold all their players on defense. This causes the other team to go crazy, they can’t stand around doing nothing forever. Soon enough the jail fills up on the patient side leaving little to no defense on the reckless side. This situation ends one of two ways.
- the patient kids launch an attack and get the flag
- the reckless kids make a wild move for the jail and succeed, resulting in a lot of broken tension and an essential restart.
Whatever happens as a teacher you must be very vigilant when the jail is getting full. Anytime the jail is getting full one team is slowly getting a true advantage. This causes a lot of excitement and anxiety in the children, this is the time they are most likely to cheat. You must stop them.
- jail is timed. Every 5 minutes you blow 3 short blasts on your whistle and everyone is freed. This is a nice rule because being in jail really is no fun.
- no jail guard. Another way to make jail a little less miserable
- no flag guard.
- The only way to enforce this is to prescribe a minimum distance that must be kept from the flag. I like to use about 25 feet distance.
Guards must be “roving”.
- all guards must follow some sort of marching pattern around their domain. The speed that they march is up to them though, but they have to keep moving in a circle or square pattern (you decide) non-stop unless tagging someone who is a direct threat.
the flag is a ball and it can be thrown
- it must be caught
- it doesn’t have to be caught
Of course there are lots more variations possible, which is why this game is so fun.
The most important thing to remember with this game is to teach your students good sportsmanship. This game really brings out the animal in both boys and girls, they become fiercely competitive and sometimes downright mean. By emphasizing good sportsmanship, you all will have a much better time.
I always make the point to the kids that you can’t play a game with one team, therefore you need the other team to have fun, so you should be nice to them because they are your friends.
I hope you all enjoy these games with your students or kids. Let me know if you have any questions.