Strategies for Reducing Off Task Behavior

The following strategies may prove helpful in minimizing off task behavior in the physical education classroom.

For more information about reducing off task behavior please get a copy of the book entitled Teaching Children's Physical Education: Becoming a Master Teacher (3rd Ed.) by Dr. George Graham. A wonderful resource that every elementary PE teacher should have!

Teaching Skills You Can Use

Learning names:

This is the singular most important tactic in ensuring an efficient classroom. Teachers who take the time to learn the names of all students can provide timely feedback (positive or corrective) as needed from across the classroom and often stop off task behavior before it involves other students. PE Central has many strategies for learning names. (Learning Students Names)

Back to Wall:

When teaching, circulate around the gym with your back to the wall. This allows you to always face the children. Turning your back on students might encourage students to engage in off task behaviors. By facing students and scanning the environment the teacher can stop off task behavior as it is getting started.

Proximity Control:

Move! Teachers who are successful with class management are constantly moving. If as a result of scanning the classroom, the teacher sees behavior that is detrimental to the learning environment, the teacher can move to within close proximity to the perpetrators’ and undesirable behavior will often cease. Teachers might want to consider spending more time close to perceived troublemakers.


It is said that good teachers have eyes in the back of their heads. Use your peripheral vision! Withitness describes the ability of teachers to know what is going on even if they are not watching a student or group of students. This skill comes from knowing the students you teach, scanning the learning environment and processing what is happening in the classroom. Teaching Physical Education is like being the ringmaster of a three ring circus. Withitness allows teachers to indirectly monitor what is happening in all areas of the gym. With practice you will be able to watch one student while talking with another.

Selective ignoring:

Some students engage in off task behavior to receive attention. Once you know your students you can selectively ignore these students as a way of minimizing the attention they are receiving. You can ignore if the behavior is of short duration, is not likely to spread, is minor in nature and if reacting would interrupt with the flow of the class. Selective ignoring works well when followed with positive pinpointing.

Positive Pinpointing:

I like the way Melinda and Sally walked to put away their equipment. Girls, please put the equipment away again so we can all watch. Positively pinpointing students reinforces the students who are on task and encourages students who are off task to do what is asked. Be careful not to use this too frequently because it will lose its effectiveness. See the 101 Ways to Give Positive Reinforcement/Feedback.

Consequences for behavior:

Having consequences clearly posted next to the gym rules and consistently enforced is a strong step for encouraging students to take responsibility for their own actions. If you do this……then this will happen! Time outs work well in the gym because students are choosing to be removed from something they find motivating. Teachers in a new environment might want to consider making the first consequence a warning. This allows students time to get adjusted to the system. Teachers who have taught in the same setting for a number of years can probably dispense with the warning as this encourages students to engage in an unpunishable infraction. Go right to the short term time out and the students will be doing their best as they enter the gym.

Don Hellison’s Levels of Personal and Social Responsibility

This system was developed by Don Hellison when he taught in inner city Chicago.  The model creates a system whereby students take responsibility for choices made during class. Most teachers have children self assess their own personal level at the conclusion of the class.  For the self assessment to work the students should know that the teacher will not be critical of a low assessment if it is honest. Here is a sample of how the system can be defined in an elementary setting.

Level I: Irresponsibility
            Touching others, blaming others, damaging equipment or making excuses.

Level II:  Respect
            Works without bothering other students. Participates willingly in all activities.

Level III: Self Direction
            Students are able to follow all of the classroom rules as well as working without direct supervision of the teacher.

Level IV: Caring
            Students help others, share equipment willingly welcome students who are not included in partner activities.

Hellison, D. (2003)  Teaching personal and social responsibility through physical activity. (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


Physical Education Behavior Report

Use this report in case a student is really causing severe problems in your class. It is really important that students understand your rules and the consequences for not following the rules.

Graham, George. Teaching Children's Physical Education: Becoming a Master Teacher. 3rd Ed. Champagne, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008.

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Submitted by Dave Hinman who is a Senior Editor of PE Central. Posted on PEC: 8/6/10.