PE lesson plans are offered here by Crispin Andrews, who believes that striking and fielding activities can develop children’s thinking skills. The lesson plans for sport (cricket) are aimed at primary students in years 3 to 6

This Primary Know-How section from PE & Sport Today offers lesson activities for:

  • Year 3 and 4
  • Year 5
  • Year 6

Crispin Andrews first explains how striking and fielding activities can develop children’s thinking skills

If you only talk about what has happened in a PE lesson during a two-minute plenary, or set aside just one session every half term for evaluating and improving performance, you are giving pupils two very clear messages. First, that thinking and performing are separate, so there is no need to think while you are active. Second, that thinking is only a small part of what is needed to be successful. As a result of this, children can easily switch off while they are active. This slows down the pace of learning as their ability to retain and apply knowledge is inhibited. To allow children to leave primary school as independent learners and performers, their thought processes must be engaged throughout their PE lessons from as early as possible.

PE is more than learning how to play a particular sport, group of sports or activity. Of course we want children to be able to run, jump, send and receive. We want them to become more balanced, coordinated, consistent and controlled in the performance of their movements. We also want them to understand the rules of the games they are playing, to understand how to adapt the various roles required to take part and to get involved in outside activities, using PE as a springboard into a life of healthy physical activity.

But there is more to PE than this. It is also about learning through sport and physical activity. Focus, self-control, concentration, cooperation, the ability to minimise the effect of distractions and to adapt knowledge and aptitude to the requirements of a particular task, can all be learnt in a ‘thinking environment’.

These life skills are relevant to all curriculum areas, but there are many children to whom this kind of informed thinking does not come naturally. Some have over-protective parents while others have few barriers regulating their conduct. If children are to be exposed to a thinking learning environment from an early age, that means adults cannot do their thinking for them. This might happen either because the adult doesn’t trust a child to make the ‘right’ decision, or because the adult wants to push the pace of action or learning too quickly, or in a desired direction.

In such a thinking learning environment, each child can learn gradually and develop at his or her
own pace. Standards will not drop in the long term, because a thinking child will also be better able to retain and apply knowledge, information and proficiency than a child who merely responds, robot-like, to any given instruction without worrying what they are doing, let alone why.

How thinking works in striking and fielding
The regular sight of two teams of Americans bashing each other to pieces on the baseball field could well lead you to believe that not a massive amount of thought goes into what is supposed to be a non-contact sport. But spectators love it, so who cares? Great attitude.

Take, instead, our own national striking and fielding sport – cricket. It is last summer’s second test at Edgbaston. Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen are turning things around and have put on 115 for the fifth wicket. Another hour or so of this and England will be out of sight, leaving the South Africans far too many runs to get to win the game. Yet with spinner Paul Harris bowling and Pietersen close to his hundred, the South Africans realise they have an opportunity. Always the entertainer, Pietersen tries to loft Harris into the stands to reach his hundred in style, but miscues and holes out halfway to the fence. England’s lead is smaller than it might have been, and they end up losing the game and the series.

But without that desire to be daring and to entertain, would Pietersen be the same player? If he had made, say, a cautious 30 before nicking off to one of a waiting plethora of slip fielders rather than counter-attacking when his team were up against it, wouldn’t the game have been over long before, and not required a champion innings of 154 not out from Graeme Smith to win it for the Proteas?

Pietersen is, in many ways, a great example of positive decision-making. Back yourself and act in a way that gives you and your team the best chance of succeeding; don’t be constrained by caution based on fear of the opposition or of failure. Respect these fears, but always back yourself and what you are capable of doing.

That’s all very well for KP with all his talent, but what about us lesser mortals? More importantly, how does this theory of positive decision-making translate for children playing striking and fielding games in a mixed-ability PE class?

Simple, really – it’s about concentrating on individual progress rather than judging how well you do against the achievements of the best player in the class. What can you do to get better? How can you improve your own performance so you have more success? What impact can you have on your team’s performance when batting, bowling, fielding and running? By all means learn from better players and even aspire to catch them up and overtake them, but don’t expect this to happen immediately.

How less talented players can triumph
One question that you can ask is: which of these two players has done better in a lesson or over the course of a few weeks – the talented player who has coasted and not improved their skills or knowledge, or the less able player who has made considerable progress? Children will naturally compare themselves against what they see – the outcome. What they will not always see is the process, so help them give themselves credit for what they do.

But what do you do when you come up directly against a tougher opponent? How can you outdo them? Well, sometimes you don’t need to actually ‘beat’ them. Here’s a true story from a primary school kwik cricket match I saw a few years ago.

Even though it was his first season playing organised cricket, anyone could see that Nadeem had quality. His bowling action was smooth, coordinated, even classical. He would go on to terrorise club batters over the next few years, before academic and parental pressures saw him give up the game. Imagine an 11-year-old Imran Khan bowling quickish outswingers with a hard plastic ball and you’re starting to get the picture.

For Catherine, a 10-year-old who had first picked up a bat just three weeks ago, Nadeem must have seemed like the real Imran Khan in his prime. She had already seen this demon in action in the previous game, and she now she was batting against him. Yet her attitude was positive. Although she knew she didn’t have the skills to smash her opponent, she was determined that she would not lose runs for her team – five for each wicket – by getting out.

Bravely she kept in line with the stumps, risking a few bruises. Her defence was good; anything wide she just let go. Nadeem, frustrated by the defiance of an inferior opponent, bowled quicker than ever. Too quickly for his wicketkeeper, who twice missed the ball, giving away eight runs as it raced over the boundary.

At the end of their duel, it was Catherine who had come out on top. Even though she had not herself scored a run; by not getting out to the opposition’s best bowler, she had ensured that the runs scored by her team mates against their weaker bowlers would not be lost. In the end her side was victorious, but only just. Her team mates were in no doubt who the hero was. Even Nadeem shook Catherine’s hand at the end of the game. After this show of respect from the local superstar, Catherine felt 10 feet tall, ready to take on the world.

Of course such showdowns will not always end like this and more often than not the more talented player will come out on top, even when they are not trying. But the point to make to children is twofold: first, that there are situations where a less able player can help their team by taking on a more able player and, second, that skill development in PE is not about being better or worse than someone else, but about knowing what you can do and deciding how best to use it for the benefit of yourself and your team.

I decide, therefore I act
Had Catherine been required to score 12 runs from Nadeem’s over to win the game, she would have had to make different decisions about how to use her skills. It is unlikely that she would have managed 12 runs, but even so she would not have been responsible for her team’s defeat – although, in the spotlight, she might have felt that was the case.

And what would Nadeem have done differently if he had not needed to get Catherine out to win? Would he have been able to alter his line or drop his pace a little to ensure the wicketkeeper didn’t give away any byes? Or would bravado have taken over, as in the case of Kevin Pietersen against South Africa? Would the way in which he bowled be determined by the expectations of team mates and spectators that he should smash the stumps of his opponent, irrespective of the match situation?

Just one example of how much thinking and decision-making is required when taking part in sport. Pick out more instances from games, activities or televised matches and get children to think about the decisions players make, what motivates them and the consequences. Get them to think about how the outcome could have been different if other decisions had been made. Remember that analysis has the benefit of hindsight and it is easy to assume that a decision that leads to a successful outcome is the right one and that if it leads to an unsuccessful outcome, the player should have done something differently. Children need to engage with the process of cause and effect – the relationship between decision and action.

Year 3 and 4 striking and fielding actitivies to develop thinking skills

1. Simple striking and fielding
This activity has deliberately simple rules so children can focus on what to do rather than how to play. Children begin to develop a structured approach to learning, applicable to all areas of PE, as well as helping focus minds on immediate objectives and how to best achieve them. With an emphasis on learning process rather than outcome, the activity will enable pupils to realise that progression in this activity will also improve their proficiency in the main or core task.

Each group needs:

  • light plastic or wooden bat
  • tennis balls or other small and relatively soft balls
  • flat coloured cones. 

An adaptation of the QCA core striking and fielding task can be played by two teams of three. Each batter has three attempts and after hitting the ball from a T (a coloured marker is a less expensive substitute), makes runs whilst the ball is collected and then sent from fielder to fielder and finally back to the wicketkeeper. When the wicketkeeper shouts stop, the number of runs scored is counted.

Let children play this game a couple of times to get used to the rules and roles involved. Reward consistency by giving a bonus of ten runs to a player who hits all three of their shots. The team with the most runs wins. More able players can have the ball fed to them underarm by a team mate.
Move on to explore this further:

  • Ask the children where the ball should be fed and at what speed and height. You might consider using a hoop and giving an extra point if the child lands
  • the ball in the hoop on first bounce.
  • Ask the children to consider what they are trying to achieve by feeding, as some will subconsciously assume they are trying to get their team mate out.

Give children time to consider what they found difficult and easy about the activity. Explain that in a few weeks, they will be playing the game again. Ask them what they think they need to learn between now and then to improve their own and their team’s performance.

2. Targets for progress
Although a simple target game will help the initial development of striking skills, the learning focus here is on establishing a sense of purpose. So, in groups of three, each player has five attempts to hit a ball from a T or coloured marker, through a target, scoring a point every time they do so.
While the children are active, ask them what they are trying to achieve. Some may not realise that to develop greater control over their striking skills requires a different set of thought processes than simply hitting the ball as far as they can, or further than the others in their group. What advantage is there to deliberately hitting the ball through the target? What advantage does a player achieve by smashing the ball halfway across the playground?

Establishing indicators of success and failure are important here, as children can be naturally competitive. Whose score are you trying to beat? If you improve your score by the end of the lesson, have you done well? To establish confidence, make it clear that it is individual achievement and progression that is the goal. Who will have done the best – the talented, experienced child who makes no progress, or the beginner who can hit the ball more consistently than they could at the start of the lesson?

Apply the knowledge accrued in the target game to the core task. What advantages would an individual gain for their team by improving their ability to control their striking skills? How might they do this? Set up the core task and briefly demonstrate the difference in scoring potential between a player who is able to hit each ball where they want to and one who just swings wildly, either missing or smashing the ball in any direction. Which player would be helping their team and improving their own performance? What might have been going through the minds of the two players when batting? What might be motivating the actions of each player?

Year 5 striking and fielding activities to develop thinking skills

This activity would ideally take place after the children have had an opportunity to practise some basic striking techniques and fielding skills. Children think about what they need to do to improve performance, both in the immediate activity and, eventually, in the core task.

Remind children of the key teaching points – to retain balance by striking the ball with eyes level, head still. Demonstrate the difference in striking proficiency between when the teaching points are applied and when they are not; and ask children to notice what looks different.

Replay the target game for Years 3 and 4. This time, the children work in pairs to gain a combined score. The striker’s partner acts as coach, using their knowledge of how to strike the ball with control to observe technical difficulties the striker is having, before offering advice. Relevant questions are: what happens if I try to hit the ball too hard? How can I make sure I am balanced when striking and where should my eyes be when hitting the ball? These questions should help the children focus their observations around what is necessary for them to achieve success.

Although they may be able to recognise technical errors in others, some children may not be able to see what errors they are making themselves, particularly if the skill they are trying to use is a reaction to an action by someone else. Extend the target game, adding an element of competition, with pairs now required to beat the others’ score. The learning focus is now on fielding skills – stopping, catching the ball and returning it accurately.

After the game ask the group to think back to two particular instances during the game. One when they fielded a ball successfully and one when they made a mess of their fielding skills. What did it feel like to be in and out of control of what you were doing? Some might not be able to explain why something just clicked, but will still be able to reproduce the feeling. Similarly, negative influences such as panic and the accompanying last-second surges of blood to the head can be felt and minimised.

By thinking like this, children are, without realising it, learning to put aside hindrances to effective performance such as rushing, distraction, embarrassment and lack of confidence. To be mentally in control, the child needs to feel calm and alert (to avoid last-second reactions) and the mind needs to be clear and free from distraction, focused on what is needed to perform a particular task. These are all vital for effective performance, not just in PE, but in all curricular areas.

Recap on the ways in which children can help themselves and others improve performance. Which techniques worked best for you? How can improved striking and fielding skills help you and your team do better in the core task?

Year 6 striking and fielding actitivies to develop thinking skills

At this stage, children think about how to apply knowledge to meet the requirements of a particular activity or a situation within that activity. They also begin to think about how to transfer principles and techniques from one activity to another.
Each group needs:

  • light plastic or wooden bat
  • tennis or other small balls –
  • relatively soft
  • flat coloured cones
  • two plastic hoops.

Focus the mind as well as the body on what is to follow. In pairs, children have to keep the ball away from their opponents by rolling it or throwing it underarm. Each pair must stay within their designated area and keep moving all the time.

Extend this by requiring children to remain silent during the activity. They will then have to think of ways of communicating intentions to their partner in a way that the other pair will not understand, perhaps using gestures or codes. After the ball has been intercepted or has gone off the pitch five times, pupils stretch two of the main muscle groups which will be used in the main activity, then roles are reversed.

Main activity
Use the striking and fielding core task for Years 3 and 4 (see page 39) to help Year 6s develop the tactics necessary to outwit opponents in their own more complex task below. The question is: How can I/we apply my/our skills in a way which maximises performance, by scoring as many runs as possible and making it as difficult as I/we can for the opposition to score?

In this game, the ball is fed to a striker by a team mate with other team mates standing in the hoops. Ten points if you can hit the ball in one to a team mate fielding in one of the hoops. If you hit it anywhere else, you can make as many runs as you like before the fielders retrieve the ball and return it to the wicketkeeper. 0 points if you hit the ball in the air and get caught out, but you still get your other attempts, 0 points if you miss the ball.

Less able children can still hit from a T and a group of more able youngsters could feed against the opposition, provided a rule is agreed about the maximum height and distance from the striker that the ball can be fed before penalties for ‘wides’ and ‘no-balls’ are incurred. There will immediately be questions relating to purpose and strategy. What am I trying to achieve when throwing? Do I want to get my partner out, or make it easy for my partner to score? How then, do I throw the ball? Can I communicate with my partner so they know where the ball will be fed and can get into position to hit the ball in a certain direction?

When batting, similar decisions need to be made – do I try to hit the ball a long way and run, or try to reach my team mates in the hoop to score bonus points? Am I aware of where fielders are positioned? When running, do I carry my bat so I can stretch it out and minimise the distance I have to travel or drop it, so as to increase running speed?

Fielders will also need to make decisions. Where do we stand? Do we guard players in the hoops or do we spread out for the big hit? What happens if a left-hander is batting? Will we stand in the same place for all the batters? Who are we helping if we all stand in the same area following wherever the ball has been hit previously? When the ball is being fielded – what technique should we use to send the ball to our team mates? What might we do if one of us is having difficulty throwing accurately or catching consistently? How can we minimise the time spent moving the ball around our team mates?

How can the knowledge and skills used in this game be applied?

  • How does improved tactical awareness when fielding and batting improve individual performance and contribution to the team?
  • In other areas of the PE curriculum – what other games require you to throw, catch, strike a ball, maintain balance? How would you apply the skills differently in those activities and how would you seek to outwit your opponents?

Crispin Andrews is a freelance journalist