I know what I think, what do you think? And what makes you say that?


Question Mark by Karen Eliot CC BY SA

Asking authentic questions – questions to which the teacher does not already know the answer or to which there are no predetermined answers – is extremely powerful in creating a classroom culture that feels intellectually engaging.  Such questions allow students to see their teachers as learners and to see that we don’t always have THE answers!

Over the last two years I have made the focus of my invasion games planning a list of questions to ask my students that do not have a specific answer but rather require them to observe, think, try out new ideas and inquire into the different components that make up the concepts of Game Play.

In my model for invasion games, I apply various different modifications based on the needs of my learners.  I try to ensure that everyone playing is being challenged just at their level: the work or challenge should not be so hard that they lose confidence, and not so easy that they are not challenged enough.  Modifications can be teacher or student selected in the games.  I have found that by creating opportunities for self-directed learning that the challenges can become very player or team specific and can lead to complex and challenging  game play situations.  Some of the modifications that we discuss in class include:

  • Different equipment – eg. ball shape/size/material/weight
  • Space – smaller or bigger court spaces and students are encouraged to change this regularly
  • Goal width/height or location/number or how to score
  • Number of players on the court for each team
  • Role of Players
  • Passes – type or number or who you can or cannot pass to
  • Rules/Challenges – these can vary from individual to individual or from team to team

Offering options to your students an opportunity to gain confidence and become more engaged when they realise that they are being challenged at their own level.  One of the major problems facing PE teachers is that students will differ greatly in their knowledge and skills and game sense/tactical play and so it is important that the teacher set up opportunities for students to experience growth in a confident positive environment where they can see success. I also enjoy seeing a team decide on their own team and individual challenges as they play games, and seeing the more ambitious also set steep penalties for not staying with their choice challenges!

Research suggests that most people are not sharply aware of how they go about figuring out a problem or coming to a decision on an issue. (Ritchhart et al, 2011) Generating questions is vital to active learning and reflection of learning in your class, and this is no exception in PE.  The questions I came back to in my practice was ‘what are my students thinking?’ in my class and ‘how could I capture higher level thinking and transference of these ideas to other topics?’   The ability to critically think about a topic and to transfer your thinking to other facets is a fundamental skill and game sense learning and authentic question opportunities are one way PE teachers can work to help students ask the right questions.

This year I have worked hard to incorporate a number of Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs).  VTR’s are routines that any teacher can use, that allow you to visibly see what your students think or how they are relating to a topic or context.  I have found the addition of these routines in combination with asking authentic questions has made a big impact in my classes.  Students are able to share their thinking (and WHY they think that way) with others and this can lead to teams exploring new ideas and sharing their thinking to find success.  I have found that many students who could not execute skills or game strategies with success in game play had very insightful ideas about HOW to play and WHY to use particular strategy.  Pairing up my strategists and strong game play students has led to more in-depth coaching and justification of strategy and given more confidence to some of my weaker skilled students.

If we are to actively prepare our students for the future, we need to ensure that our pedagogical repertoire includes opportunities that will allow for our students to have practice  skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.  The use of Game play models such as Teaching Games for Understanding and Game Sense approaches and the use of Visible Thinking Routines offers models that extend our students thinking and create spaces to communicate effectively and collaborate in teams to solve real problems all of which are important tools for our students as they move into the workplace and into the Global community.

This is an abstract from an upcoming Article for the Active and Healthy Special Edition of ACHPER magazine in Australia.  I will be presenting and working with PE teachers on this topic, in Adelaide in April at the annual ACHPER conference.  


  • mhamada

    Andy, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. That proximal zone is so important – I agree, and finding that way to ensure that slight discomfort but not totally over stretch students is hard. I find it harder on the students who have to go the longer journey, the ones who can do so much or have more experience don’t always understand what those kids are struggling through and that their negative comments can be so crushing at that time. I found a blog that shows 5 modern routines for students and I think I would like to try some of these or to make some of them more PE friendly – have you seen them.

    Thanks again – BTW, which VTR’s are you favorite ones?

  • andy vasily

    Great post Mel, what resonates the most with me is the idea of creating an environment that supports autonomy, but does so at a pace and depth that the students can handle and are pedagogically ready for. As you say, challenging them at their own level. I might add, and I know you understand this, that challenging them at their own level must still get them into that uncomfortable zone on the brink of failure. Finding that brink of failure is critical to push them through and beyond I think.

    Visible thinking routines are great to implement in our teaching practice. I’ve used several in my instruction. Some with more success than others, but I’m always thinking of ways to better broaden the depth of VTR’s that I offer my students. Not always an easy journey but a necessary one. Thanks for sharing your insight Mel.

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