Spice Up Physical Education During the School Day!

Although kids love Steal the Bacon and Kickball, isn’t it time for something new?

By Barry Nitikman

Kids at P.E. with teacher

If you are like most elementary teachers, especially in 4th or 5th grade, providing some variety during P.E. can sometimes be a challenge. You've got your repertoire of PE games: Steal the Bacon, Kickball, or maybe some relay race variations. However, sometimes you find yourself in search of something new and different.

Here's your chance to try some great, new P.E. games that are a lot of fun and guaranteed to give your kids exercise. Having used all of these games for years, I know you and your class will have a great time.


Overview: This is a really fun Dodgeball variation that the kids never seem to get tired of.  A five-person conga line, surrounded by a circle of players, has to maneuver every which way to protect the "caboose" (the last player in the line) from being hit with the ball. As one caboose is knocked out, the next in line becomes the target, and so on until all are eliminated. 

Equipment: A ball that doesn't hurt if it hits you; the little red playground balls are ideal. 

Best Location: Blacktop, since the players need to stand in a circle. However, grass also works fine.

Set-Up: Pick five kids to be the conga line. All the rest of the players stand around them in a circle, which needs to be big enough that there is a fair distance between the throwers and the conga line, and room for the conga line to maneuver around.  

Object of the Game: Knock out all the players in the conga line.

How to Play:

  • The five players in the conga line start moving around, trying to protect the caboose. 
  • The teacher hands ball to one player around the circle who either throws it at the caboose or passes to someone in a better position. 
  • Once the caboose is knocked out, the next player in the rear becomes the target. This continues until all are knocked out. 
  • At this point, the teacher picks a new conga line and the next round begins.

Special Notes: Insist that the players in the conga line keep moving all the time; they can't just park in one spot. Stress that all throws must be below the waist. Also suggest that an important part of the strategy for getting to the caboose is passing the ball. If you aren't in position to have a realistic shot at the caboose, then pass it to someone who is.

Cranes and Crows

Overview: The class is split into two teams. The teams chase each other in alternating rounds until all players are tagged. 

Equipment: None.

Best Location: Anywhere you can be close to a boundary of some kind to use as a safe area: a wall, a fence, etc.

Set-Up: The kids are split into two teams, called either cranes or crows, and line up facing each other.

Object of the Game: Tag players on the other team before they can reach safety. The rounds continue until the last player is tagged.

How to Play: 

  1. The class splits in half and the two lines face each other, about 3 feet apart. One is called "crows" the other "cranes" (or use any names you want.) 
  2. The teacher shouts out one name or the other, and immediately the group whose name is called begins chasing the other group, who instantly turns around and flees to a pre-determined area; a line about 20 feet away, or even better, a fence or wall. 
  3. The object is for the chasers to tag the fleeing team members before they can reach safety. Those who are tagged must then join the other team. 
  4. The teams line up again, and this is repeated.  
  5. Each round goes quickly, and before long, one team will usually have most of the players, which results in the humorous situation of 20-25 kids chasing one or two poor cranes. 
  6. Line them up, and start again.

Special Notes: The teacher can have a lot of fun with this in the way he/she calls the names (as in Steal the Bacon); you can just alternate the calls, but being predictable is much less fun. Calling one group 3-4 times in a row, for example, results in great hilarity as the exhausted team struggles to escape repeatedly.

Sharks and Minnows

For many kids, this is their all-time favorite game; some would play it every single PE period and never tire of it. 

Overview: The class is split in half (not in teams), one or two sharks are chosen, all of the others being minnows. The minnows must run repeatedly across a court with sharks chasing them. Any who are caught become seaweed and must freeze. However, they can still capture unwary minnows. This continues until most players are seaweed, new sharks are chosen, and the game starts anew.

Equipment: None.

Best Location: This is best played on an area that is well-defined, such as a basketball court, where there are clear boundary lines from which players can run to the other side to reach safety. 

Set-Up: The kids are split into two teams, go to either side of a court or other delineated area, and line up facing each other.

Object of the Game: Tag the other players before they can reach safety; the rounds continue until the last player is tagged.

How to Play:

  • Have your class line up on opposite sides of a basketball court; that is, the long way across the court. 
  • Two sharks are chosen. Both go to the middle and await the whistle. The remaining kids are the "minnows."
  • Teacher blows the whistle once, and all the minnows run across the court trying to reach the other side, with the sharks in pursuit. 
  • When minnows are tagged, they must freeze: they are now "seaweed." However, they are still in the game; they can use their arms to flail about and try to tag unwary minnows, but their feet must remain in one place.
  • The rounds each last about a minute. 
  • Once the teacher sees that all minnows in that round have either been tagged or have reached safety, he/she blows the whistle twice, which is the signal to line up again. 
  • Another whistle blows, and the minnows take off again.
  • Ultimately, there will be one or two final minnows trying to escape the two sharks and a class full of seaweed everywhere. 
  • The teacher decides when it is time to reset and start another game. 
  • Another two sharks are picked, and the game starts again.

Special Notes: As with all games of this type, the fun is in the tagging/escaping/yelling. Let them enjoy this, and you be the judge how long each game should go.

By The Numbers

Overview: A very simple, but wild and fun, game where the kids must instantly form groups of various sizes according to the teacher’s random calls.

Equipment: None.

Best Location: Could be almost anywhere, really; this would probably even work in a classroom on a rainy day.

Setup: The kids just mill about in an area and wait for the teacher to call out numbers.

Object of the Game: To last through every round without being eliminated.

How to Play:

  • The kids meander about, but they can’t touch or be too close to each other. The teacher calls out random numbers between 2-10 (though with a really large group even bigger numbers could be used if desired.)
  • When the teacher calls out a number, the kids must form into groups of that number; that is, if he/she calls out “seven!” the kids must form into groups of 7 as quickly as possible, before the teacher blows the whistle (after about 5-10 seconds.) Anyone not in a group is out; they go sit on the sidelines.
  • This is repeated until one or two kids are left. Play as many rounds as you like. The nice thing is that the game moves so quickly, those sitting down won’t be out of action for long. 

More great P.E. activities:

The Wolf and the Goslings

This gives the kids a great opportunity to practice running and dodging, which are the kinds of skills that are important for many other games and activities.

STXBall Soft Lacrosse

The kids work on a progressive series of drills leading up to actual an Lacrosse competition. 

Ball/Barrel Attack

Here’s a great activity for almost any grade level, as teams compete to move a barrel down the court by throwing balls at it. It helps develop both ball-throwing skills, as well as strategy and teamwork.