5 Strategies for Using the National Physical Education Standards … and the Benefits of Being a Standards-Based PE Teacher

What do your students need? How do you know what to teach in your physical education classes? If you often find yourself wondering or asking in an online community what you should do in PE this week or next week or how to start, then you picked the right article to read.

Let me tell you a little bit about me. I am a National Board Certified elementary physical education teacher with more than 13 years of experience. In 2022, I was honored to be named the SHAPE America National Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year. I consider myself to be a reflective practitioner, and I truly believe that the secret to all my success as a physical education teacher lies in going back to the basics of meeting my students where they are and always trying to do my best.

Using SHAPE America’s National Physical Education Standards as the guide to my teaching helps me prepare my students to take charge of their own physical literacy journey — and I recommend that’s where you start as well.

If you have been deciding what to teach on a given day based solely on what you think could be fun or something “cool” that you saw on social media recently, you’re missing a key piece for your students. This could lead to disjointed learning which doesn’t set your students up for success.   

The National Physical Education Standards are the goals or outcomes of what students should know and be able to do when they complete your classes — and the ultimate guide to what your curriculum should be. So, starting with these standards as the foundation for deciding what you do is imperative to helping your students achieve those goals.

It’s all in there for you, the teacher, to guide you in creating the best tailored lessons for your specific students. If you outline what you want students to know and be able to do first, then you can take those fun and cool ideas and tailor them to your students’ needs to achieve those goals and fit them into the place in your curriculum where they will help your students find the best success.

Here are my top 5 tips for using the National Physical Education Standards as a foundational base in everything you do as a PE teacher.

#5: Make the National Physical Education Standards Visible and Proudly Show Them to Everyone You Can

Having the National Standards as the guide to your curriculum is easier when you are reminded of them often. What worked for me was to simplify SHAPE America’s National Standards into a huge picture format which I posted on the wall of my gym.

This made it easy for me to reference and teach my students about our learning goals. It also helps me showcase what we are doing. Any teacher, administrator or parent who enters the gym can see the foundations of what we are working on.

#4: Begin at the End

By having the goals of our learning be the National Physical Education Standards, we have a clear starting point for our curriculum. What should the students know and be able to do? Use that to plan the purpose of the lessons, then find the skills they will need to be able to do that. After that, you can find activities that help students learn or practice those skills. Designing my lessons in this order helps me be a more effective teacher by helping me tailor my teaching to the needs of my students.

#3: Give Students Ownership

In my classes, students understand the goals of each lesson, and we frequently reference which elements we are addressing or focusing on during various activities. This helps students take ownership of their learning and helps them focus on improving their skills.

My ultimate goal is to teach students the knowledge, habits, skills, and desire to be physically active for a lifetime. So, having them be the owners of their learning and know why we are working on each standard is foundationally important to our success.

Self-decorated, end-of-the-year reflection journals are just one example of student ownership.

#2: Make a Checklist

To help you decide if a new idea or activity will be effective in your physical education program — and be the right fit for your own students — I recommend creating a checklist to help with the decision-making process.

Whenever I see a new idea at a conference or on social media, I ask myself four questions.

  • Which National Standard is this focusing on?
  • What skills are students learning or practicing?
  • What foundational skills will they need to already know?
  • How can I adjust this topic, activity or setting to better fit the needs of my students?

Having a checklist makes it easy for me to evaluate any fun game or activity to see if it would help or harm my students in their learning journey. For example, it might be harmful if it creates an unsafe space or encourages habits that we will have to unlearn later.

It also helps me check to see when in my curriculum the activity best fits. Will it be a good introductory skill-learning activity for the beginning of our unit? Will it be a good activity to have fun with while practicing skill repetition? Will it be a good culminating game that helps us celebrate the skills that we’ve learned? These are some of the questions I ask myself.

These students are having a blast with a parachute activity. Having the National Standards picture on the gym wall reminds us of the focus behind what we are doing.

#1: Make a Plan

Standards-based learning in physical education comes with planning in many forms. Year-long curriculum plans can help show — at a glance — how to address the standards broadly. Unit plans help to disperse your learning activities to find time to focus on all the standards.

Teaching skills and concepts are often a focus in our health and physical education instruction, but just as important is the value or access to how to behave in physical activity settings. By highlighting in your unit plan at least one focus on each standard you know that you’ll be able to teach your students the importance of all the standards.

Of course, many things you are doing cover many standards, but if you find a way to highlight each standard within every unit, you build in teachable moments. By referring to the standards in your classes, you can also help students verbalize their learning.

I use the “topic of the day” section on my teaching whiteboard to help guide those teachable moments that I plant throughout the unit to help us all know our “whys.”

Coming in 2024: New National Physical Education Standards

I hope these strategies are helpful in your daily practice to help make your planning and teaching easier.

In 2021, SHAPE America began the process of revising the National Physical Education Standards — and I’m excited for the release of these new standards at the 2024 SHAPE America National Convention & Expo in Cleveland!

I encourage you to learn about the new standards and use standards-based teaching to help all your students grow on their learning journey in health and physical education.

Additional Resources

Rebecca Lambdin-Abraham-Knipe

Rebecca Lambdin-Abraham-Knipe (Becca L-A-K) has 13 years of elementary physical education teaching experience in Austin, Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, then earned her master’s degree at the University of Northern Iowa. She earned National Board certification in 2014. In 2022, she was named the SHAPE America Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year! Follow her on Twitter @Rev_PE