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.