September 28, 2017

How I Start My School Year: Lesson One

The 2017-2018 school year is here and I could not be more excited!

There’s such an awesome energy in the air at the beginning of each school year. Teachers are recharged and ready to rock, students are excited to be taking on new learning… it’s just the best. That being said, as I read through a lot of comments/posts on social media in the weeks leading up to the launch of this school year, I noticed that a lot of teachers (especially new ones) weren’t sure how to get their year going. That’s why I figured I’d share what my first three lessons of this school year looked like. I’m not saying this is the best way to launch a year or that these lessons will work in all teaching realities, I just thought that I could show you one way to get things going.

Sound good? Ok, let’s do this!

Side note: although my original intention was to release all three lessons in one massive blog post, I decided to break them up into their own separate posts (here are Part Two and Part Three).

Lesson One: Introducing The “Why” Of #PhysEd

Big Idea: Physical education helps us get the most out of life.


  1. Introduce myself.
  2. Review safety rules & basic procedures.
  3. Briefly cover behaviour expectations.
  4. Discuss the big “why” of physical education.

To start the lesson off, I’ll have my students come into the gym and sit by the screen (we have a TV set up in our gym, which you can learn more about here). My older students (G3-G6) can sit where they like (as long as everyone can see the screen and they are close enough that I don’t need to shout), but my younger students (G1-G2) will sit in their squads. To help them know what squads they’re on, I AirPlay a graphic like the one below onto the screen

Physical Education Squad Rosters
Would you like to be able to download this template? Just let me know on Twitter and I’ll set it up!

Once they’ve found their name, they sit down in their squads lines which are marked with my Squad Spots on the wall below the TV.

You can download these squad spot markers for free on the Visuals page.

Once everyone is sitting, I’ll introduce myself (my students call me “Joey” since all teachers go by their first names at St. George’s… I miss being “Mr Joey”!) and let the students know what subject I teach (“Physical Education, PhysEd., or PE… never ‘gym'”).

I’ll ask the class what my main rule is, which is listening when the person whose turn it is to talk is talking (be it the teacher or a classmate). I then ask them what my number one job is, which is to make sure they are all safe. We’ll talk about how PE is an active class that has a lot of moving parts and that there are certain things we can all do to make sure we are staying safe in class:

  1. Respecting the boundaries of the game.
  2. Keeping our eyes up when playing.
  3. Staying on our feet at all times (never sliding or lying on the ground during gameplay).
  4. Moving at a speed that we can control.
  5. Using the equipment in the way that it is meant to be used.

Safety represents the first of our behaviour expectations in class. As the lessons go on, we will go over additional expectations. However, it is important that students understand what happens when they behave in ways that meet expectations and what happens when they do not behave in ways that meet expectations. So, this is when I introduce the class warning system:

Class Behaviour Expectations Chart

At this point, the students are usually pretty excited to get up and move, so I set them out to find a personal space inside the main boundaries of our gym (the white lines) and we get ready to play Everyone’s It Frozen Tag.

I’ll get build one of the game going by playing some music and having the students move around the space (“get your hearts working!”) while demonstrating the safety rules we’ve just outlined. A few times throughout this build, I’ll pause the music (and say “3, 2, 1… Freeze!”) to have the students practice freezing (i.e. stopping play, turning and looking at the teacher, being a whole body listener).

Once we’ve gone over freezing, I’ll introduce the tagging aspect of the game and we’ll move right into build two.

After a few minutes of Everyone’s IT Frozen Tag (Build Two), I’ll have the students freeze and then come in so that I can explain bathroom/water break procedures.

Once we’ve gone over those procedures, I’ll introduce the Auto-Defrost rule to the game and we’ll resume playing for build three. Play goes on for a few more minutes and then I’ll have the students freeze and bring it in for a quick talk on behaviour expectations in class. I say quick because this will be the main focus of our next lesson, but it is important for me to plant the seed of what is expected of my students in terms of behaviours as early as possible.

Behaviour Expectations Character Shields for Physical Education
You can download these Character Shields – including a fourth shield (Safety) – for free on the Visuals page!

There are three main behaviour expectations in my class. Students should be able to say that they are being:

  1. Responsible
  2. Respectful
  3. Grateful

As I mentioned, we won’t look into these in great depth just yet, but we will talk about how being responsible, respectful, and grateful helps create a great, positive vibe in class. This is why it is so important that we hold each other accountable to these three behaviour traits.

Following that talk, I’ll introduce the “Nose-Toes Base” rule and the students will go back to playing Everyone’s IT Frozen Tag for its final build.

After Everyone’s IT Frozen Tag, I’ll invite my students to come sit by the TV and I’ll show them the North Face video you see above. I love that video because of how perfect it ties in the concepts of health, physical literacy, and adventure. Following the video, the class will have a discussion around the following questions:

  1. What did you notice about the activities in the video?
  2. What did you notice about the environments in the video?
  3. What did you notice about the people in the video?
  4. How would you feel if you lived a day like that?

I use this conversation to introduce the big “WHY” of my physical education program: to empower my students to live as many adventures as possible in life. As a class, we’ll discuss how adventure can represent different things to different people. For some, yeah, it can mean sandboarding down a volcano. To others, it could mean competing in a big gymnastics competition you’ve trained for, or trying out for a lacrosse team, or hiking that hill you’ve always seen way off in the distance. What matters isn’t the “what” of your adventures, but the “why”: that you have dreams that motivate you to live a life that is rich, full, and fun.

With the big “WHY” out there, I then introduce my Adventure Pyramid to my students:

Physical Education Adventure Pyramid
You can support ThePhysicalEducator.com (which helps me be able to create more free content for you!) by purchasing this poster in the Shop!

In order to reach the top of the pyramid (“adventure”), we need to develop our physical literacy. I used the Student-Friendly National Standards language that SHAPE America put together to create five graphics which help me break down physical literacy for my students:

Physical Education Standards Graphics
You can purchase these graphics for your gym in the Shop!

A physically literate person is someone who:

  1. Has the skills to move and play.
  2. Knows how to move and use a plan when playing games.
  3. Knows how to get fit and stay fit.
  4. Acts fairly and respectfully when playing.
  5. Knows why it is important to be physically active.

I explain to my students that these are the things that we will be working on developing in physical education class so that the students develop all of the skills, knowledge, and understandings they will need to live as many adventures as possible!

Finally, there is one last part to the Adventure Pyramid. It is something that everyone in the video had, that all of my students have, and that is the most precious thing any of us has ever been given: health. Health is the foundation of the Adventure Pyramid because it is our ticket to ride in life. Health is our greatest wealth and we need to learn how to value it and care for it so that it enables us to live the best lives possible. I explain to my students that the role of PE isn’t to make them healthy by having them do exercises and get sweaty, but rather it is to help students understand the power of health, to value health, and to develop the skills and knowledge to maintain their health throughout their lifetime. That’s the long game I play as a teacher.

While the North Face video played, I set out hoops within the playing area (one per student). Once we have completed our Adventure Pyramid discussion, I’ll have my students get up and go stand in a hoop for a few rounds of Musical Hoops.

For the first few rounds, when the music starts, I’ll have my students move around the playing area while avoiding stepping in any hoops. As soon as the music stops, they must quickly move to a hoop. We’ll repeat this three times without me removing any hoops from the game. Between each round, the students will be invited to close their eyes and make quick mental lists through the following reflections:

  1. First Break: What adventures have you lived in the past year?
  2. Second Break: Which physical skills did you need for those adventures?
  3. Third Break: Why is health important to you?

After the third break of that first build, I’ll have the students move around again but this time I’ll remove half of the hoops I laid out (leaving only one for every two students). Now when the music stops, students will have to quickly pair up in a hoop. Just like before, there will be a small task they will need to complete before I restart the music:

  1. First Break: Take 60 seconds to share your adventures with your partner. Make sure you each get a turn to share (30 seconds each).
  2. Second Break: Take 60 seconds seconds to share the physical skills you needed/worked on through your adventures. Make sure you each get a turn to share (30 seconds each).
  3. Third Break: Take 60 seconds seconds to share why being healthy is important to you. Make sure you each get a turn to share (30 seconds each).

After the third break of that second build, I’ll continue to play musical hoops by removing more and more hoops in between each round (making the amount of students sharing each hoop larger and larger). For the last round, with only one hoop left, I’ll make sure that I’ll leave a hoop close to the TV so that once all of the students are in, we’ll be ready to move into our closing discussion with my Paper app’s screen being AirPlayed onto the TV.

Adventure Reflection Paper App

The final discussion is a quick share where I’ll invite students to share some of the answers their partners said during the Pair-Share rounds of Musical Hoops. As students share, I’ll write down their answers in Paper (which the students can all see on the TV). The goal here is to show that there are all kinds of adventures to be lived, adventures that require mastery of all kinds of different skills, adventures that come from all kinds of different sources of motivation. This diversity in adventures, skills, and reasons to be healthy is something that we want to strive for and that should be celebrated, which is why we have a mural in our hallway to help us do so (click here to learn all about my #MaxYourDays Mural project!)

#MaxYourDays Mural - Full

Finally, we’ll wrap class up by stating a few things that we are grateful for (gratitude being one of the behaviour traits we strive to develop in PE) and I’ll send my students back to class.

So that was the lesson I used to kick off my school year! Although I tailored it for each grade, all of my students got to experience everything you just read. Learn more about how I start my school year in Part Two and Part Three of this blog post mini-series!

Thanks for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com.
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