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What does an excellent lesson look like? Learning from movement...

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

In this blog, a successful framework for quality lessons (across any subject), is offered. The excellent lesson example explored and detailed is taken from a quality PE game.

Excellent lessons involve children moving.
Excellent lessons

‘Poison Ball’ or a magic potion? Secrets within an infamous game

Poison ball and other closely related games such as ‘dodge ball’ have been associated with Physical Education classes throughout history. These games involve a ball being thrown at opponents within a confined space. The fundamental motor skills of running, dodging, throwing and trapping are required to play the game competently. The purpose of this article is to acknowledge the concerns surrounding poison and dodge ball and to delve below the surface level to explore why it has over a long period of time been a popular choice for teachers. This article will also explore the notion of poison ball as a quality game and what value lies within the game. I will argue that such recognition could potentially assist teachers in their future choices and implementation of games.

Conversations amongst educationalists regarding Health and Physical Education (HPE) practice will often accept that poor teaching surrounds poison and dodge ball games. This was evidenced by the Position Statement released in 2006 by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), an association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). ‘The Position on Dodgeball in Physical Education’ states that “dodgeball is not an appropriate activity for K-12 school physical education programs” (NASPE, 2006, p. 1). The rationalisation for this is understandable as it certainly does not describe implementation of an inclusive game:

The students who are eliminated first in dodgeball are typically the ones who most need to be active and practice their skills. Many times, these students are also the ones with the least amount of confidence in their physical abilities. Being targeted because they are the “weaker” players, and being hit by a hard-thrown ball, does not help kids to develop confidence. (NASPE, 2006, p. 2).

My experiences of poison ball in HPE do not fit this description of dodge ball. A simple rule change where the throw becomes an underarm roll along the ground enables the game to optimise safety and all players to competently master one of the simple yet necessary skills. With this rule change there are suddenly no ‘weaker’ players as referred to by NASPE and all children are able to grow in confidence. Thus, the experience becomes enjoyable for everyone, as a direct result of thoughtful teacher choice and pedagogy. This may be what is happening in the implementation of this game in many HPE classes which supports why; “The arguments most often heard in favour of Dodge Ball are that it allows for the practice of important physical skills – and kids like it.” (NASPE, 2006, p. 2). The question that needs to then be asked is not why do teachers continue to choose a game of bad practice but rather ‘Why has poison and dodge ball been a popular game over a sustained period of time?’

I think that the key question is that the differences between the various opinions may evolve from different practical experiences. The varying implementations of this game I believe relates directly to the expertise of the teacher to enable quality learning for all students. Believe it or not, I use poison ball as a model for pre-service teachers to assist them in identifying quality games. Not many educationalists would be brave enough to admit this after reading the NASPE position statement. The version of the game that I model is presented below and as identified, this version of poison ball promotes the aspects of quality games that are popular amongst all students and teachers (Figure 1). The quality game aspects include that it is:

Criteria for excellent lessons.
Key aspects of excellent lessons

Playing the game

As mentioned earlier, you will notice that within this version of poison ball some rules have been supplemented or adjusted to promote the key aspects of quality games (Figure 1). By understanding these aspects, it is suggested that teachers will be able to apply the same principles to any game (or lesson) for implementation. Teachers have many games on offer and can easily research these through various means; in the ACHPER Active and Healthy magazine, textbooks, observe in a school yard or find on a games’ website. Hence, this version of poison ball offers teachers a platform for identifying the key aspects of quality games and enables them to confidently choose a game that potentially is inclusive. This approach is also, one where changing particular rules when needed to suit their context, is a possibility. It also allows and enhances teachers to identify the necessary skills that the children require to optimise quality outcomes for learners.

Equipment: Each game requires a number of markers (approximately 12), three soft balls (approximately the size of a size 5 basketball) and a class set of bibs/sashes.

Playing Space: Grassed/ asphalt area.

Formation: This game can be played amongst a whole class (20-30 children) or can be easily played using two smaller games (10-15 children). A space of 20 metres wide and 20 metres long would be needed to implement with a full class. (Note that a small-sided game is likely to last less time but will be more likely to provide each student with greater opportunities to practice the skills and strategies of the game.)

Instructions: The markers are set out to make a large circle. Three children volunteer to begin outside the circle while the remaining children begin inside the circle (Figure 2).

Excellent lessons involve all participants engaged.
Quality movement games

The children inside the circle are ‘dodgers’ and wear a coloured sash/bib so that they are easily recognised. The children outside the circle are ‘rollers’. The aim of the game is for the rollers to roll the ball along the ground and hit the dodgers inside the circle. The dodgers’ objective is to move around the inside space, staying within the boundaries of the markers and avoid being hit by the ball/s. When hit by a ball the dodgers leave the circle, remove their sash and position themselves at a cone as a roller.

Teaching Tips:

• It is recommended that soft pvc volleyballs or foam balls be used (Figure 3). Also, flexible field markers or flat markers are preferred (Figure 4) so that children can step on them safely and not twist or turn their foot awkwardly.

All children are enjoying the excellent lesson.
Children moving.

Criteria is met in excellent lesson.
Safe equipment is used in excellent lesson.

• To maximise safety the children must roll the ball along the ground (Figure 5) and a successful hit on a dodger is below the knee (Figure 6).

• All players need to be competent at following the correct technique for rolling a ball. This involves bending one knee and releasing the ball at ground level (Figure 5). This skill needs to be assessed and if required, practised before beginning the game. During the game feedback can be given to the children in a sensitive and positive manner to assist.

• When a dodger becomes a roller, they are to stand at a marker which indicates their space. The rollers only move off their cone to gather a ball coming towards them if they are the closest roller. When all cones are filled the new rollers stand in-between the cones.

• Begin playing with one ball. As the players become familiar with the game and evidence an understanding of all rules and skills then another ball can be added.

All children can participate in safe, excellent lesson.
Inclusive skills enable excellent lesson.

• Minimise the time rollers can hold the ball e.g. 3 seconds

• The game can be terminated by the teacher when they deem in the best interest of all players. That is, this version of the game is not classified as a ‘last person standing’.

• When beginning a new game acknowledge the players who survived as dodgers and rotate the players starting as rollers.


The game could be simplified or extended to suit the particular context. It may be more suitable for the markers to be closer, thus creating a smaller circle, which simplifies the game for younger children who are limited in strength. The smaller sized circle also makes it more difficult for the dodgers with older students, as they have less space to move about in. An extension can be varying the fundamental motor skills for the rollers to a chest pass, shoulder pass, handball or rolling using non preferred arms. The rule, hitting dodgers below the knee, needs to remain at all times for safety.


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