Literacy in the Gymnasium

When thinking about literacy, physical education is not generally the content area that comes to mind, but there is no reason it shouldn’t. This is an idea that is gaining momentum in physical education classrooms among practitioners and pre-service teachers. It is something I have been able to learn about in my classes and now I’m seeing it in the field as I do my pre-student teaching. The idea of “gym” class being a way of kids getting their exercise for the day is slowly fading while a new idea of creating physically literate students is fast approaching.

To be physically literate requires many different skills just as it would in any other content area. Students need to be able to perform skills, understand strategies, communicate with teammates, and also understand the importance of physical education. To me, the last piece is the most crucial. Taking the time to show students why not only being able to perform a skill is important but how it connects to the big picture, being a lifelong mover. Just as one would expect with writing, the more confidence a student has, the more willing they are to taking risks and putting forth effort. It is through experiences and opportunities that allow growth and show what is known can help them feel more confident in their knowledge and fluency in not only a situation like creating a story but also performing a skill or making connections to life after their K-12 schooling in terms of physical activity.

From all levels it can be implemented. At the elementary level, simply asking students what requirements are there for them to play their favorite game at recess. It can develop into middle school by asking students to reflect their life and what choices they can make to improve their health as well as activity levels. In high school there is an opportunity for them to show their understanding of why and how their health can affect them as they age or how they can maintain an active lifestyle. These questions could be answered in a number of creative ways that allow students to showcase their strengths in academia beyond physical movement which I appreciate.
All of these levels have numerous aspects of literacy that is geared towards physical education but could be used across all curriculum. Literacy in physical education is a concept that is gaining steam, and it is a way to help kids find a deep connection to being knowledgeable in their own health and well-being. In my pre-student teaching experiences, I am seeing my host teacher ask students how they could use the different stretches, drills, whatever it may be to enhance their life in a way other than a specific sport such as having a desire to gain strength or endurance.



13 thoughts on “Literacy in the Gymnasium

  1. Amy Walling October 4, 2016 / 6:19 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. As a music teacher, I feel like we are in the same boat sometimes. You don’t necessarily think of reading music as literacy, even though it is reading. The definition of literacy is so much broader than people think! I love that you used the term “physical literacy”. Have you ever thought about how literature circles could be used in your classroom? Your post got me thinking about how the roles (summarizer, vocabulary, connector, etc) could be discussion points for small groups after they have done an activity. Just something to think about! Great post!


    • karkk1ka October 6, 2016 / 11:35 pm

      Thanks Amy! I think that in a P.E. setting literature circles could be useful when learning about different sports and their strategies and then comparing them to other similar sports. An example of this would be discussing soccer where you could talk about all the different positions of players are and then strategies for both offense and defense. When moving into a basketball unit, you could transition by discussing similarities and differences between terms and strategies. They are both examples of invasion games but have different components that are unique to them. Just a rough idea but could possibly work!


  2. rachaelhyaduck October 5, 2016 / 1:51 am

    I found this post to be a very interesting read. I feel like literacy in gym is something that is not really thought of or talked about. So your examples of how being physically literate were very helpful in understanding this concept. I grew up in a school system where gym was just timed running and playing games and I never understood why this was important. So I feel like your points on teaching students about the importance of health and physical education is really helpful. It gives students a reason and insight into why they are doing something and I feel that giving students a reasons for why they are doing something will motivate them to stay on task. I also like your examples on how you can incorporate literacy into health lessons. Nice post!


    • karkk1ka October 6, 2016 / 11:36 pm

      Rachael, that is what I think a lot of us think about. I view it as a future teacher I need to promote this different mind set of what opportunities are out there when interviewing.


  3. emilyraehoward October 5, 2016 / 3:50 am

    I really enjoyed this post! It was very interesting to read about different types of literacy in physical education because not many people have this insight. It is nice to see how you will incorporate literacy and be able to show your students how important their health is. It is also neat that you have a full understanding about literacy in physical education and are seeing it used in your pre-student teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jlong450 October 5, 2016 / 6:17 pm

    I am pursuing a minor in PE and I agree with what u have written in post. I feel like most have different opinions as to what should or actually does go on in a PE setting. I believe relating it to life skills or how whats taught is not just used in a sports is a key to this subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jennmphil October 8, 2016 / 3:16 pm

    Yes! I love the idea of “physical literacy”. Students can verbalize, write, and teach others in this discipline, which also increases their own understanding.
    It would be interesting to see students develop a coaching/how to plan or even a video/digital story of a concept in P.E.
    Fitness is an area that some students shine in and may help them connect to other disciplines that they may not excel in.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on bringing literacy to the gym!

    Liked by 1 person

    • karkk1ka October 12, 2016 / 1:03 am

      Having tutorials taped by students is something I am very excited to implement in my future classroom!


  6. jackieb38 October 8, 2016 / 3:58 pm

    This is a really interesting take on literacy. As a third grade teacher after four years, I always like to discuss healthy choices with my students as it is a part of our curriculum. Personally, I am a very active person and try to encourage that in my students. Approaching physical education like reading instruction puts it in a different lense for me. Like you said, students who are strong readers are more likely to take risks just like students who are PE super stars. If we don’t support those students who do not feel comfortable in PE, then they have the risk to continue a pattern of not being an active adult. As a classroom teacher, maybe I can try to collaborate with my PE teachers to incorporate the knowledge behind being PE literate into the classroom so that all students can be confident.

    Liked by 1 person

    • karkk1ka October 12, 2016 / 1:00 am

      There are so many strategies and ideas out there that can incorporate literacy and physical activity in both classrooms. After attending a conference last year, I saw a number of ways teachers were doing it. One example was a PE teacher asked grade level teachers for spelling words of students and turned the words into targets for throwing at. Students had to create their spelling words and were awarded points for the amount they got with a certain number of throws. A general ed teacher was using her vocabulary words to create an activity based game of scrabble. Students would do locomotor movements to a retrieve a letter but before they were aloud to pick it up, they had to do whatever the letter represented (5 sit-ups, 10 jumping jacks, etc.) before they returned to their team. The team with the most points won! Just a few ways vocabulary was partnered with physical activity.


  7. ckllit17 October 8, 2016 / 8:23 pm

    I agree and I am excited to see Literacy being implemented into physical education. It is important for students to see how literacy is implemented into all parts of the day. Many times a call for literacy in physical education can be based on the necessity to increase literacy exposure for EOG prep, but you have given examples that are more critical for students. It is important for students to think critically about physical education and the importance of a healthy body. Thank you for sharing this information and helping us see literacy in PE.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. cheriedh October 9, 2016 / 12:42 am

    I love how you describe being “physically literate” as the ability to show mastery of physical skills, communicate with others and help students become more knowledgeable about their own health. It made me think about literacy in different ways and across different content areas. I work to provide professional learning to Adapted Physical Education Teachers, who serve students with physical needs, and I will definitely think about your blog when I do my next professional learning session with them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • karkk1ka October 12, 2016 / 1:01 am

      Thank you! Adapted PE is something very interesting to me, how cool.


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