Strategies to Help Increase Inclusiveness in Your PE Class

by SPARK


Multi-ethnic group of children with coach in school gym.

By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant

When teaching PE, are all of your students successful in reaching the objectives of a lesson? If your answer is “affirmative,” way to go! If, however, they are not all reaching the objectives or being appropriately challenged, this blog is for you. It is important to know how to adapt your activities in a variety of ways in order to help all students, including those with special needs, achieve your objectives.

Students have many things in common, but they also differ in so many ways. They have diverse ways of learning, their fitness and skill levels vary from one extreme to the other, they may enjoy varying levels of competition, their reasons for being active are not the same, and so forth. Even in a “typical” general education (gen ed) PE class, there is a wide range of abilities, fitness, and competitive levels. By providing choices and challenges, teachers can help to address the variety within the group. It is your job to adapt and tweak the variables in PE class in order to allow all of your students to be successful.

This blog will cover a few of these strategies:

Focus on the Positive – Rather than look at just a student’s disability, it may help you to look at their abilities. What skills does the student possess that can assist them with reaching the objectives? What are they able to do well? How can you build on that?

How does the Disability Manifest Itself? – Just because someone is labeled with a disability does not necessarily mean they will have difficulty in reaching objectives in PE. Many students, disabled or not, have difficulties. By noticing the things they have difficulty doing, you may be able to adapt the activity or environment to downplay those challenges or to help them overcome them. Things such as difficulty focusing on a task, lack of technique, limited mobility or strength, etc. may be challenging, but certainly do not make things impossible. There may also be issues you see in your gen ed students, so by adapting for your students with disabilities you may be helping others, as well.

Utilize Peer Tutors – Peer tutoring, where students work in pairs or in small groups to master skills, can be very beneficial for both disabled and gen ed students. Since students with disabilities may thrive where there is a smaller ratio of student to teacher, having a peer tutor helps address that need. It is also nice to have a student with strong skills be a good role model for students working to build those skills. There are several models of peer tutoring:

  • Unidirectional – Where the student with the disability is always the “student” in the pair
  • Reciprocal – Both take turns being tutor and student
  • Class-wide – The entire class is divided into pairs and reciprocate tutoring roles
  • Cross-aged – Older students come into the class to help the younger students

Peer tutors are most effective when they’ve been given clear instructions regarding the best ways for their buddies to learn and receive feedback. It is important for peer buddies to be taught not to over-assist or be condescending toward their peer with a disability, but to treat them simply as a member of their class.

Utilize Paraprofessionals/Aides – Many students with disabilities have aides who move with them from class to class in order to help them be successful. Some aides may be one-on-one, while others are shared with several students or the whole class. The key to success with paraprofessionals/aides is to be clear in communicating your expectations. What would you like them to do during your PE class to help their student(s) be successful and safe? Go over these expectations and foster a collaborative relationship. Let them know they are appreciated and a vital part of the team. Explain that they are responsible for attending and assisting the student in the least restrictive or invasive manner possible. They need to allow their students to do as much as they can independently, but to be there when they need assistance. They should be prepared for activity in clothing, footwear, and attitude. They should do their best to keep their student from interfering with others’ learning as well as enhancing their own.

Adapt the Activity – Many games and activities can easily be adapted to increase success for students with disabilities. Teach all your students that adapting the rules to a game or sport is a skill you want all of them to have. Allow them to come up with new ideas for ways to make the game more fun, active, and safe for everyone. A few examples would be to play with smaller teams, on a different surface, with simplified rules, or different ways to score. When it comes to dance, allow students to change moves or the tempo of the music.

Adapt the Equipment – Find out what your students can do and use special equipment or modify existing equipment to allow them to do that. This typically involves bigger, lighter, slower moving tossables and striking implements. For example, beach balls or balloons in place of volleyballs, or a light racquet to strike a ball instead of a bat. Blind or visually impaired students, for example, can have increased success in object control skills when using an object that makes noise, such as a bell ball.

Don’t Sacrifice Safety for Success – Overall, the goal is to have students with disabilities participating and achieving success, but never at the expense of their or the other students’ safety. Do your research to know what is and isn’t safe for your participants. For example, is anyone allergic to latex? Are there contraindicated exercises for students with a specific disability? Once you are sure of what you can and can’t do, proceed.

Use a Variety of Instructional Strategies – There are a variety of strategies for instructions and practice. Each may work for differing populations:

  • When large groups are overwhelming, break into smaller groups or pairs.
  • Break skills into mini chunks.
  • Teach only a portion of the activity rather than the entire game.
  • Provide breaks for students who get overwhelmed.
  • Challenge students with mini-goals throughout the lesson.
  • Use engaging targets.
  • Use video recording to give feedback on skills.
  • Keep activities age-appropriate.
  • Allow students to explore their abilities and problem-solve on their own where and when appropriate.

We at SPARK would love to know what you and your students are doing in your inclusive PE classes. Send us an email with ideas and strategies that work for you and your classes! spark@sparkpe.org

Now Available: The New SPARK Inclusive PE Guidebook!

The SPARK Inclusive PE Guidebook provides over 200 pages of resources designed for Physical Education (PE) teachers who teach a general PE class that includes students with disabilities. The guidebook provides information and strategies for creating an inclusive environment so that all students can be successful by participating in an authentic and enjoyable PE class.

The guidebook includes 24 sample SPARK lesson plans and 14 skill-building activities with integrations that demonstrate how to modify and adapt the activities for students with disabilities. This guidebook also contains valuable fact sheets for 12 disability categories that includes background material about each disability and information about how a student with the disability learns best.

The SPARK Inclusive PE Guidebook is available in print and digital format. Click here to learn more!

  • Kirk Williams

    I really enjoyed reading your post. As you mentioned, it is very important to focus on the positive things students are able to do. This is an important piece of motivation to meet goals and make new ones for the future. The most impactful piece for me was your suggestion on utilizing peer tutors. I so often use the students who stand out as leaders and offer up their service, usually only for students with disabilities. I think to benefit all students; I will utilize practice and refinement of students’ skills in changing roles of tutoring. When all students know expectations and procedures to follow, with guidance, we can help make the process of learning that much deeper for all.

  • Kirk Williams

    I really enjoyed reading your post. As you mentioned, it is very important to focus on the positive things students are able to do. This is an important piece of motivation to meet goals and make new ones for the future. The most impactful piece for me was your suggestion on utilizing peer tutors. I so often use the students who stand out as leaders and offer up their service, usually only for students with disabilities. I think to benefit all students; I will utilize practice and refinement of students’ skills in changing roles of tutoring. When all students know expectations and procedures to follow, with guidance, we can help make the process of learning that much deeper for all.