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  • Brandon Bull

Physical Education: Teaching Grades 3 - 6 (Games for Understanding)

Updated: Aug 22

For many of us, physical education has shaped the way we feel towards the subject. At times, you may have questioned why you had to do it, especially when the weather was unfavorable. For some it may have been the relevance of the activity. Why was physical education in the curriculum? Why did you have to run mile after mile? These questions might have been asked, but not necessarily answered.

In many ways, I think teaching grades 3 – 6 are the most fun, and almost the most significant opportunity you have as PE teacher to establish physical literacy with your students. Children at this age begin to have a real understanding as to “why” they are doing something. The notion behind physical literacy is trying to foster a desire for your students to be life long, physical learners. I feel happy if I can teach a student a game that will get him/her away from the screen or something they play with their friends on the weekend. So, what does this look like in grades 3 – 6?


I think the greatest approach to teaching this age range is the Game Sense Approach Model. The game sense approach model revolves around four pillars:

· Guided inquiry through player problem solving and teacher use of well-considered and targeted questioning

· Game simplification to represent the tactical logic of the game at the student’s level

· Modification of game and player constraints to focus, shape and direct learning

· Classification of games into Net/Court, Target, Invasion and Striking/Fielding games based on similarity in principle of play.

Any PE curriculum map in the primary years should revolve around the 4 types of game sense (invasion, net/court, target and striking/fielding).

In the Game Sense Approach model student learning is driven by refined use of questioning techniques by the teacher, challenging students to think about, and come to an understanding of the playing dimensions of time, space, force and game flow or tempo. The need for more complex skill comes with understanding the complexity of play and developing to meet the performance demands of the game as the game is progressed by us (the teacher) from simple to more complex over time. Your best teacher judgment will come in handy here, but this is where you can progress through modified games. Your judgment will be when to decide to use drill practice vs play practice to improve student development. The Game Sense Approach is not about “kicking a ball and letting students play.” The challenge of the Game Sense Approach is in the design or selection, and then shaping of games to focus the play on the skills to be learned.


What does a Game Sense teaching sequence (lesson) look like?

1. Warm Up

2. Initial Game

3. Q&A and setting a new challenge (go over your learning intentions for the lesson)

4. Practice Tasks/skill work

5. Game Progression

6. Question and Answer (Did we accomplish our learning goals?)

The lesson can vary from these steps. This is just an example. Teachers may choose to conduct some of the Q&A in the game to progress the learning sequence.

The more significant aspect of the Game Sense Approach is the purposeful teacher use of questioning to guide student learning and help understand game performance. The second aspect of the Game Sense Approach is purposefully teaching the transfer of skills across game categories. For example, cricket and baseball are both striking and fielding games. The requirement of the batter to place the ball into a space away from the fielder to create time for the batter to run without getting out is common to understanding both sports. Understanding this principle can help students transfer skills and adapt to problems presented when learning new games.


I know we as physical educators have heard other teachers or parents OR leadership say “the kids are in P.E. They’re only playing games!” How fantastic is that? Hopefully after reading this article you can explain to them a little bit more just how important Game Sense is to a student’s learning.

The Game Sense Approach allows students to develop cognitive, social and physical skills simultaneously. This learning enhances essential life skills like cooperation and teamwork. The knowledge and skills acquired though the Game Sense Approach are retained longer than information from other learning methods.

It is more than just a game! Happy P.E. teaching 😊

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