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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Four Favorite Physical Education Instructional Strategies—Recommended by Teachers!

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 24, 2021 9 min read
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This week’s “question-of-the-week” is:

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used when teaching physical education?

This post “wraps up” a longer series of questions and answers inviting educators from various disciplines to share their “single most effective instructional strategy.”

Five weeks ago, educators shared their recommendations when it came to teaching writing.

Four weeks ago, it was about teaching English-language learners.

Math was the focus three weeks ago.

Posts from two week’s ago were on science.

Last week’s post was on supporting students with learning differences.

Today’s contributors are Michael Gosset, Ed.D, Hunter Burnard, and Claudio Barbieri.

‘Movement Education’

Michael Gosset, Ed.D., is coordinator of physical education for Hostos Community College, CUNY. He has had published several articles and one book on Movement Education and Skill Themes:

If you define strategy as a plan or method, no single strategy can apply at both the kindergarten and 12th grade levels, as they are so different. Other words to consider when describing how to teach at the various levels include approach and model.

Approaches/models I have used very successfully over decades, for the different levels, are Movement Education (which leads into the Skill Themes approach) for elementary school, and the Sport Education model for secondary school.

Movement Education, when taught using problem-solving methodology, allows children to be creative when “moving.” There is no single correct solution to a problem presented by the teacher such as how can you move on three parts of your body? The solutions are numerous. Movement Education is typically for kindergarten through 2nd or 3rd grade.

Once children know “how to move” successfully and understand movement concepts, the Skill Theme approach is a very appropriate approach to use with upper elementary. In the Skill Themes approach, various (sport) skills are repeated throughout the school year, enabling children to practice them more often. This is the opposite of the traditional approach called the Multi-Activity model where several sports are learned and played once yearly. Research has suggested that more students who are taught using the Skill Themes approach toward physical education enjoy it more than the Multi-Activity approach. This can lead to more children being active outside of school. More information on these approaches can be found in books.

The Sport Education model, for secondary students, has been used and researched for over 20 years. Its key for students is its “authenticity”—it makes learning sports fun for students because they not only participate but get to choose a role in its implementation, such as scorekeeper or statistician, just to name a couple. It is authentic because they learn the sport much more in depth than a traditional program of seasonally done sports.

For all levels, I have found teaching by indirect style to be the key to student learning and enjoyment. Another way of stating indirect style is, as previously mentioned, is problem solving. Presenting material in a way that encourages students to think for themselves is enriching and encourages “higher-order thinking skills,” or HOTS. It does indeed require more planning by the instructor, and experience in responding to student inquiries takes time. For example, if a student asks a question such as, “Can we…..,” the answer from the teacher can be, “Does that fit what I asked of you?” rather than “yes.” This is a change of paradigm and thinking for many instructors.


‘Differentiated Instruction’

Hunter Burnard grew up in Binghamton, N.Y. He played college lacrosse at Rutgers University before choosing to pursue a career in education. Hunter, who currently teaches at The Windward School in New York, and his wife are both teachers, and together they share a 1-year-old daughter, Shay:

As physical education teachers, our ultimate goal is to expose students to a variety of sports and game play in order for them to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.

Similar to classroom subjects, physical education classes are made up of students with a wide variety of backgrounds and ability levels. On top of this, I teach at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities. Because of this, I believe that the most effective instructional strategy that we employ is differentiated instruction among our students.

One way that we differentiate instruction in our class is through the teaching process, or how the material is presented and learned. For example, when introducing a new skill, I will verbally break down the requirements and strategies required to effectively execute the skill being taught. In addition, I will demonstrate the skill and often use our gymnasium projector to display a short video of what we are learning that day. We may use a video presentation early in the unit to teach a skill such as a wrist shot in hockey or something more conceptual such as route running in football.

In addition, we sometimes use video midway through a unit, prior to game play, to expose students to sports they are likely less familiar with such as European team handball or badminton. Regardless of the unit, by the time the student will need to use a skill in gameplay, they have heard it, seen it, and done it many times on their own or in a small group.

We not only differentiate instruction, but also we differentiate what we ask the students to produce in order to demonstrate understanding. This is critical to challenging students and keeping them engaged. If the goal of a soccer lesson is to introduce passing, I must differentiate my instruction for one student who has never played soccer and another who plays on a competitive travel soccer team. I may require the inexperienced student to simply practice completing 10 passes with a partner from a short distance while using the inside of their foot.

On the other hand, to challenge the more experienced soccer player and to keep them engaged, I would require that student to use their nondominant foot and to pass at a greater distance with accuracy. Ultimately, although we are assessing skill, we are most concerned with effort in our classroom. Therefore, although the students have different ability levels and are demonstrating different difficulty levels of the same skill, I am most concerned with their effort in completing the assignment.

Lastly, we provide opportunities throughout each class for students to raise their hand and volunteer information as another way to demonstrate understanding of the concept or skill being taught that day. This is particularly important for students who understand concepts and strategies required to be successful but struggle to physically complete a task as successfully as they may like because of limited skill or inexperience.

Differentiated instruction undoubtedly requires some additional work while executing a lesson, but I think it is essential to implementing an effective physical education curriculum. The great thing about physical education is that while exposing students to a wide variety of activities, we as educators can learn about students likes, dislikes, skills, and ability levels in a broad range of topics and activities. Differentiating instruction accordingly is the most effective way to maximize the physical education experience for all students.



Claudio Barbieri has been a physical education teacher for nine years, with experience teaching grades 1-12. He currently teaches at The Windward School in New York. He received his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Manhattan College and a master’s degree in health education from Lehman College:

I have been a physical education teacher for nine years in N.Y.C. in both the public and private school settings. There are many strategies we use as educators, but the one I find most effective is a multisensory approach.

This strategy is helpful for all students. The most important thing for me is that students learn the fundamentals of the skill, have fun, and develop confidence throughout the lesson. The multisensory strategy allows students to experience success differently as well. For example, during our basketball unit, one student might feel they were successful if they were able to make one shot using proper form and technique during the unit. However, another student might feel they were successful if they were making their shots more consistently using proper form and technique. In both situations, each student would have the knowledge to go back to the fundamentals they were taught regardless of what kind of learner they are.

The multisensory strategy is a powerful way to teach students in a physical education setting because it covers the needs of all types of learners. This strategy is also a great way for students to develop confidence in volunteering to demonstrate or explain an activity or skill.

Since I use this strategy with all my units and lessons, we have a greater number of students willing to demonstrate or explain an activity or skill as the school year progresses. I would encourage teachers to try this strategy with their classes because everyone learns differently. Lastly, the multisensory strategy will encourage you to become a better educator because you will have to think of all the ways to present your lesson to the class while keeping in mind the variety of ways students learn and retain information.


Thanks to Michael, Hunter, and Claudio for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first nine years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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