Teaching Games by Playing Games: A Quick Look at TGfU

Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) is a pedagogical concept that has only recently been formally introduced to elementary teachers in Ontario through the revised 2010 health and physical education (h&pe) curriculum. However, it is not a new concept. Teaching Games for Understanding was pioneered at Loughborough University in the early 1980s by researchers Rod Thorpe and David Bunker. The pair acknowledged that students were often leaving schools with little knowledge of how to play games effectively, they were relying on the knowledge of the coaches and teachers rather than their own, and they had limited capacity to apply the skills they did learn in different contexts. Through TGfU, students develop physical and games literacy, as well as critical and creative thinking skills.

In Ontario TGfU had been present in the secondary school h&pe curriculum, but with the 2010 revision was scoped and sequenced down into the elementary document as well. Through TGfU students learn to play formal games (e.g., baseball, volleyball, basketball) by playing smaller variations of the games (e.g., Chuck the Chicken, Balloonminton, Can’t Touch This). By playing games that are fun and adaptable to every skill level, TGfU prepares students to participate in a wide range of sports with greater success and enjoyment.

To teach using the TGfU model, teachers teach developmentally appropriate games by grouping them into categories with similar tactical problems, rules, and skills. By doing this, teachers are widening the focus from teaching each individual game independently, this will help students see the connections of the skills, rules, and strategies associated within a variety of games within each category. The four TGfU game categories include:

TGfU Game Categories:

  1. Target Games
    An object is propelled, at a target (e.g., golf, bowling, curling, wheelchair bocce, shuffleboard). Accuracy and control are emphasized. Target size, distance from the target and types of equipment are all adaptable.
  2. Net/Wall Games
    An object is sent over a net or against a wall. Players aim to make it difficult for opponents to send the object back. (e.g., tennis, badminton, volleyball, squash)
  3. Striking/Fielding Games
    The striking team tries to hit or strike an object into a specified open area then run to designated areas, while the fielding team tries to catch the object or get it to a designated area (e.g., baseball, softball, tee ball, cricket). The games involve running, striking, batting, throwing, kicking and catching.
  4. Territory Games
    Players aim to control an object, keeping it away from opponents and moving it into a scoring position (e.g., football, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, hockey). Territory games are challenging because of continuous action and decision making needed to switch between offensive and defensive roles, the number of people involved, and the movement in the playing area

So, in one unit of territory games, students will be introduced to a variety of developmentally appropriate sports within the category (e.g., ultimate Frisbee, basketball, and soccer). The focus is not only on the skills specific to each sport, but the transferable strategies that can be made between them. These may include strategies such as moving to an open space, give and go, or attacking the goal. In other words, if a student understands the basic premise behind maintaining possession of an object in an invasion game (e.g., use short passes, shield the ball), this will help them play other invasion games where these tactical solutions transfer between similar games (e.g., soccer, field hockey, basketball).

In my gymnasium, students start off being introduced to the focus of the lesson by playing a small group game. Lots of small games are happening at once, equipment may be varied, but the game is the same. In order to introduce the strategy or skill being taught, one of my favourite prompting questions is “What are you doing to increase your chances of success?” Typically the lesson strategy or skills goal is suggested in student responses, then I explicitly teach the lesson learning goal and students return to the game applying the skill or strategy I’ve just addressed. By returning to the game with their new knowledge shared in this exploratory format, students become thinking players, they learn to react to the challenge presented in a game situation, and they are active and having fun while learning it.

For more information on Teaching Games for Understanding and for games and activities connected to the four games categories check out the Ophea resource PlaySport.

3 thoughts on “Teaching Games by Playing Games: A Quick Look at TGfU

  1. shane pill says:

    An interesting blog – thank you. I enjoyed reading your story of engagement with TGfU. It must, however, be remembered that playing small sided games and asking questions about the play and how it can be improved while good pedagogy, is not of itself teaching games for understanding. Bunker&Thorpe explained TGfU as a 6 step cycle of learning. Within the model’s cycle direct skill teaching was not ruled out (no style or pedagogy was ruled out) but, if you like, the class is ‘flipped’ with the game being the start of the teaching process rather than the end point typical of the traditional physical education method (Metzler has a good description of the physical education method in his text Instructional Models for Physical Education). Hence the reference to TGfU being ‘game-centred’. While Bunker&Thorpe’s original explanation is in a 1982 special edition of the Bulletin of Physical Education it later became the text Rethinking Games Teaching, which can be downloaded as a pdf at the TGfU website:

    Click to access PHED%20RETHINKING%20GAMES.pdf

    Essential reading for anyone wanting to use the TGfU model.

    • runsoulcycle says:

      Thanks for sharing Shane. In keeping my post “A Quick Look” it was my goal to show the application in an H&PE program versus the theory. With the educators I work with, much of the focus is on the theory vs. the application, this causes them to leave wondering what it even looks like in the class – so, my goal was to share how I apply the TGfU model which although not explictly written includes the 6 stages of Bunker and Thorpes model.

      For those note aware:
      1.Intorducing game
      2.Game appreciation
      3. Tactical awareness
      4. Decision making
      5. Skill execution
      6. Performance

      Thank you for providing information on where educators who are interested in further information on the theory of TGfU may go.


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