February 15, 2022

The Alt/Par Cards: Rethinking The Roles Of “Non-Participants” In Physical Education

Tell me if you can relate to this:

You’re about to teach physical education. You’ve got your whole class set up, you’ve got a great lesson plan, and you’re ready to rock and roll.

Your students begin to arrive to the gymnasium when – all of a sudden – you notice that Timmy’s arm is in a cast. He comes up to you with a doctor’s note and a story that involves some sort of trampoline. He looks you in the eye and asks “what am I supposed to do today?”

Your mind starts racing as you try to juggle activity modifications and your lesson’s outcomes in your head. Not to mention the fact that you’re also trying to keep track of the 23 other kids in class who are fired up to get moving.

Quickly finding ways to engage students whose participation suddenly becomes limited due to medical reasons can be tricky. However, limited participation in classroom activities does not mean that engagement needs to be limited as well. This is why I’ve always struggled with the term “non-participant”. Instead, I’d like to propose a better option:

Alternative Participation.

Let’s Talk About Engagement in Physical Education

Just as physical literacy exists across multiple domains, engagement in physical education should happen in different domains as well:

  • Physical engagement (Moving & Playing)
  • Cognitive engagement (Thinking)
  • Social-Affective engagement (Connecting)
  • Behavioural Engagement (Doing)

A well-crafted lesson should provide students with opportunities to engage in a variety of ways. These opportunities for multiple forms of engagement should be intentionally designed and baked into our lessons.

When our lessons rely too heavily on a single form of engagement (e.g. physical engagement), we rob our students of the opportunity to engage in deeper learning. Overreliance on the physical domain is also what puts us in a tricky spot when it comes to students whose participation has suddenly become limited, because we haven’t planned for other forms of engagement in the lesson.

That being said, no lesson is perfect and educators – no matter how our loving students may view us – are human. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that every lesson I ever delivered deserved to have songs written about it. Teaching is hectic and, despite our best efforts, getting caught off-guard at the last minute is going to happen.

Knowing this, I got to thinking about how I could create something that could help out in those moments of scrambling panic as we try to figure out how to keep every student engaged in our lesson regardless of their ability to physically participate in all of the activities we have planned.

Here’s what I came up with:

The Alt/Par Cards: Alternative Participation Roles For Physical Education

When I started to plan this resource out, I did so with the following goals in mind:

  • Create a tool that helped students whose participation had become limited to engage in lessons at a cognitive, social, and/or affective level.
  • Create a tool that provided those students with choice in how they would engage in the lesson (allowing them to exercise their autonomy and select a role that aligned with their current needs).
  • Create a tool that provided teachers with a quick and easy system that promotes a focus on the current lessons’ learning targets.

With those goals in mind, I started to draft together what would become the Alt/Par Cards.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!

The Alt/Par Cards (short for Alternative Participation Cards) is a set of six character cards that students whose ability to participate has become limited may choose from at the start of the lesson.

Each card features a fun character who has three missions to complete during the lesson.

These missions have been carefully crafted to promote cognitive, social, and/or affective engagement in the day’s lesson. The missions feature a balance of improved clarity on the day’s learning targets, reflection on the learning process, interaction with peers, and reporting back to the teacher.

On the back of the cards are short reflections that the students are invited to fill in throughout the lesson. Each set of reflection questions and/or prompts was designed to match the character missions.

The cards can be printed out and given to students as needed. However, I would recommend that you print and laminate a set and keep them – along with some fine point dry erase markers – handy in your gym. This way, they’re always good to go and can be reused several times throughout the year!

Let’s take a look at the six Alt/Par characters and their missions:

Download The Alt/Par Cards!
The Detective

Character Role: The detective is on the hunt for evidence of learning in today’s lesson.

Missions: The detective’s goal is to complete the following three missions:

  • Interview the teacher to gather a few “look for” clues that will help them recognize learning when they see it.
  • Without interrupting their classmates’ work, move around class to see if they can spot evidence of learning.
  • Keep track of findings using the Detective’s Reports on the back of this card and share them with their teacher by the end of the lesson.

Designed For: Students who may not be feeling up for a ton of social interaction on that day.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!
The Journalist

Character Role: The journalist is collecting stories on their classmates’ learning.

Missions: The journalist’s goal is to complete the following three missions:

  • Get their journalism assignment for the paper’s editor-in-chief: the teacher!
  • With their assignment in mind, find opportunities to interview their classmates and learn their learner stories.
  • Compile their interview notes into a short article that aligns to their editor’s assignment.

Designed For: Students who are looking for opportunities to connect with their classmates and who enjoy writing.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!
The Trainer

Character Role: The trainer is on a mission to help their classmates make progress!

Missions: The trainer’s goal is to complete the following three missions:

  • Become a certified trainer by working with their teacher to identify the learning cues for the day’s lesson.
  • Invite their classmates to write their name on the board should they want extra help throughout the lesson.
  • Visit the classmates who signed up for extra support and work with them to help them reach their goals!

Designed For: Students who are looking to step up as leaders and enjoy peer-teaching.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!
The Director

Character Role: The director is filming a documentary on the learning happening in class!

Missions: The director’s goal is to complete the following three missions:

  • Work with their teacher to create a shot list for their documentary film.
  • Using a mobile device, capture the shots that they need for their film.
  • Edit their shots together to produce the documentary film in time for its premiere (the end of class)!

Designed For: Students who enjoy working with technology and expressing their creativity.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!
The Analyst

Character Role: The analyst is using science to understand their classmates learning patterns.

Missions: The analyst’s goal is to complete the following three missions:

  • Work with their teacher to identify the data (e.g. learning cues, behaviours, etc) that they will seek to collect and understand throughout the lesson.
  • Collect data by observing their classmates as they learn and keep track of what they see using the Analysis Sheet on the back of the card.
  • Draw and share conclusions based on their observations and interpretations of the collected data.

Designed For: Students who enjoy working with numbers and who may not be feeling up to lots of social interaction that day.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!
The Motivator

Character Role: The motivator is on a mission to make sure that everyone is having a great time!

Missions: The motivator’s goal is to complete the following three missions:

  • Connect with their teacher to share their motivation plan (e.g. strategies they will use to support others) and get some tips that can help them be successful.
  • Throughout the class, create positive moments for their classmates by highlighting their efforts and success.
  • At the end of class, give their class a pep talk in which they highlight the hard work and resilience they observed.

Designed For: Students who have positive energy to spare and are looking to connect with as many classmates as possible.

The Alt/Par Card Teacher Procedure

To help you bring the Alt/Par Cards to your teaching, here is a breakdown of a classroom procedure you can adopt (or adapt as needed):

  1. Start off by having a clear understanding of your lesson’s learning targets and student learning indicators (e.g. learning cues, look fors, success criteria, etc.)
  2. When a student arrives and informs you that their participation is limited for that day (e.g. injury, illness), allow them to choose a role from the set of Alt/Par characters.
  3. Once they have made their choice, provide the student with a printout and pencil or the laminated character cards and a fine point dry erase marker. Note: The director role requires a mobile device with some form of familiar video editing software installed (e.g. iMovie).
  4. Once your lesson is underway, complete the first mission on the students’ Alt/Par character card.
  5. Throughout the lesson, check in with the student to see if they need help, how their progress is coming along, and whether or not they have stayed on task.
  6. At the end of the lesson, ask the student to share their experience and/or final product with you. If you wish to do so, snap a picture of their completed work to save it to their digital portfolio.

I hope your students enjoy the Alt/Par Cards and that this resource helps solve this common issue that we’ve all faced in our teaching. If you would like to download the cards, you can access them by hitting the button below.

Download The Alt/Par Cards!

Thanks so much for reading and happy teaching!

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