Yackle Balls, Rubber Chickens, and Hand Trampolines Oh My! Differentiating Phys. Ed. by Modifying Equipment

When is a game of basketball no longer basketball? When we play it with a rubber chicken!

Throughout my teaching career I’ve learned that many students have a love/hate relationship with a number of the traditional games often covered in a typical phys.ed. class. When I bring out soccer balls, those who love it get excited and remember the last time they had success, and those who don’t, turn off and become disengaged and inactive. To support the development of skills and to add interest and fun to the physical activities I teach, I like to use a combination of fun and as much different equipment whenever I can.

My favourite student reaction is the one I get the first time I introduce a yackle ball, rubber chicken, or flying disc. It’s one of interest and intrigue, and maybe a little “Mrs? Have you lost your mind?” This is how I like to introduce game skills and strategies in a fun new way, differentiating my program, and just mixing it up and having some fun.

Modifying equipment is a great way to keep all students engaged while still focusing on the curriculum skills and strategies you want to address.  Using a variety of equipment makes sense in a school as supplies and resources are often limited and student ability levels can be so varied.

I’ve rarely taught at a school with an entire class set of any specialized pieces of equipment. So, instead I would play a number of small group games simultaneously with the various pieces of equipment I had, equipment such as tennis racquets, ping-pong paddles, hand trampolines, and student hands with balloons. Sometimes it means I have to be resourceful to ensure that each student has an opportunity to use as many different pieces of equipment as possible, but without money to buy full class sets (especially for these fun, specialized pieces), it works.

When new equipment is introduced, it’s important to provide specific instruction to students on the appropriate handling of each piece and special safety considerations. When selecting equipment to use be sure to take into account the size and age of the students to choose equipment that is most appropriate.

Here are some ways different pieces of equipment can be used:

 Primary Example: In a primary activity that focuses on students’ catching, objects of various sizes and shapes can be used in order to make the task more developmentally appropriate. A variety of objects, such as bean bags, tennis balls, beach balls, rubber chickens, and discs can be used to support the lesson learning goals while keeping the activity fun.

Junior Example: In a junior striking themed activity set up two games in a wide activity space. Play one game as a modified game of t-ball and the second game with the “batter” throwing a disc instead of hitting a ball with a bat. Allow students to pick which game is appropriate for them. Be sure activities are separated by adequate space.

Intermediate Example: An intermediate example of a territory game can be a basketball game modified with the use of a rubber chicken. Rules will be modified slightly as students will be frozen when in possession of the chicken and can only move down the court by throwing the chicken to a classmate (they don’t bounce very well). Game strategies similar to basketball such as moving to an open space, and “give and go” will still be taught and assessed.

Give It A Try: When playing any game, consider setting up many small games (to maximize participation) each with a different type of equipment, but all playing the same basic version of the game; one small game could use a beanbag, another a flying disc, and a third uses a rubber chicken. Let the students select which game they want to play. Student participation and interest is increased as instruction is differentiated and made inclusive through this equipment change.

Modifying equipment and activities also permits students with different developmental needs and physical abilities to take part and progress at their own rate. Instruction becomes student-centered and skill-based when students get to select their own equipment to modify games. Be sure to offer developmentally appropriate equipment, such as appropriate sizes, colours, weights, and/or textures, when necessary. This way the program provides opportunities for child-initiated individual expression when students use their observations, personal experiences, and background knowledge when choosing activities and equipment.

Check out this Ophea video of Grade 3 students from the YRDSB taught by Andrea Haefele. You’ll see a class of 20 students playing 5 different net/wall themed games. Each game uses a different type of equipment but focuses on the same net/wall game strategy – hitting to an open space. Note that the footage is very raw.

Making Something From Nothing in Your Phys. Ed. Equipment Room

When I was fortunate enough to get a full-time phys. ed. teaching position in my second year of employment I inherited an equipment room that was virtually empty – broken hockey sticks, a few deflated volleyballs (with no pump), and one basketball. I was given no funding to build my supplies, so I had to get creative.

Here are three strategies I’ve used to go from nothing to something when building my phys.ed. equipment room.

  1. Canadian Tire Money Drive: This was a creative idea that was easy to implement and we had huge success with. Letters were sent home and the month-long drive began with each class receiving a jar to fill with Canadian Tire Money. I found our school community was very willing to unload these bills and quickly we were in the thousands of dollars.  Prior to the drive we approached our local Canadian Tire and they agreed to both match our funds and donate bins to hold the equipment. The class that collected the most amount of money was rewarded with a movie and popcorn party (sort of healthy) and it was a hit. The highlight, we received a donation of a $5 Canadian Tire bill. This was huge, even the staff at our local store had never seen this urban legend, oh, and we got a ton of great equipment too!
  2. Bring a Ball to Have a Ball: This event we organized in order to raise equipment for classroom recess bins. After school we had a Bring a Ball to Have a Ball event. Where the admission to the family fitness night was a ball. We didn’t provide any specifics as to what kind of ball, and the catch was that the ball would be donated to the school and all equipment received would be split up between every class to be used as recess equipment. Family fit night events included active Bingo (or Fitgo as I’ve heard it called since), where each square is labeled with a fitness activity that is performed when called. We also did a family dance, where students were taught choreographed dances in phys.ed. classes and performed them with their families, and we provide a variety of low organized games in open gym time.
  3. Local Service Clubs: Many local service clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis etc.) or retail stores (Forzani’s/SportChek) were more than willing to donate to our school. All we had to do was ask! We were even asked for a wish list which a local service club had their members fulfill. Check and see what connections already exist within your school community and work them. We took photos of our school and students being active (of course with consent forms). We wrote letters, including some from students on teams as appropriate and when groups were interested, we provided school tours with student performances and student served lunches – really opportunities for these groups to meet our school and want to partner with us, and it always worked.

These strategies worked for my school within our community, if you are in a similar position – give them a try!

Have you done anything similar or creative to raise equipment or funds for your health and phys.ed. program? Share it in the comment section!