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Creating teams can be time consuming and you end up with issues of kids wanting to be on somebody else's team. In a pinch, I'll just go through and pick teams randomly using Facial Hair Teams. I'll point to one person and tell them they're on the Mustache Team, and they use their finger as a mustache (holding their finger under their nose until they know where to go). Then I point to the next person and say Beard and they hold their hand like a beard on their face. The next team is Unibrows (using a finger between the eyebrows) and if I need a fourth, I'll use Sideburns (a finger on each side of the face). If you have girls that want representation, just remind them that there are ladies everywhere with facial hair. Or you can add in Unicorns (with a finger pointing straight out from the forehead).
Facial Hair Teams are a great way to make teams really quickly.
While Facial Hair teams work, sometimes kids forget or intentionally go to their friend's team. To solve this problem, I got one of my favorite tools: the colored, rubber wristbands (available at Amazon). They're my go-to tool for creating teams. A lot of PE teachers use jerseys or athletic wristbands but those get gross really quick. If you love doing laundry, then by all means keep getting fabric; but these are perfect. They will never smell bad. If a student is sick or gets blood on the band, I just wipe it down with a Clorox wipe. Periodically, I'll just throw them all in a bowl of soapy water to clean them.
The Power of Choice
It's also an amazing way to give power back to the students. Any time you can give kids choices, they are empowered to make great decisions. The way I'll do it is I'll throw a pile of bands on the floor then call names at random. Every time, I remind them my rules for getting bands.
"You have a hot second to come get a band. Don't stretch it, don't pull it, don't put it in your mouth."
I always hand out the bands after I go through the warm up and the rules of the activity. Anybody who struggled listening or following directions is sitting out at a yellow spot. Those people don't get to choose until everybody else has chosen.
It's a perfect analogy for life and I make sure to explain it to my students. In life, sometimes you get a lot of choice and sometimes you don't. I call names randomly. If you're called first, you get a lot of choice of color, but not as much of who you're working with. If you're called near the end, you get to know who you'd be working with, but not as much choice of color. If you've been sitting out because of poor decision making, you get even less choices. When you make great decisions in your life, you'll be rewarded with opportunity. Go to college, you have more choices in a fulfilling career path. Make great decisions in who you spend your time with, you'll have more opportunity. But when you make poor decisions, you get less choices. Do a terrible job at work, good luck getting a shining recommendation for a new job.
In a perfect world, all students would just be okay with the color of band that they get and who they're working with. Unfortunately, we don't live there and sometimes kids have problems with the people they end up with. When this happens, I like to point out that many PE teachers simply choose teams for students and there's no choice at all. I like to give them at least a little bit of power in their decisions. They may not always get what they want, but it's better than what most kids are going to be getting. If they're having a hard time choosing, I let them know I'd be more than willing to choose for them for a while. Just like real life, sometimes you're going to have to work with somebody you don't like or somebody that's difficult.
Sometimes building teams can be super simple and straight-forward. I have 20 kids for 4 teams, I'll just throw out 5 bands of each. But if I need just two teams, I'll sometimes throw out 4 colors, then pair up two of the colors. So RED and ORANGE would be on a team against GREEN and BLUE. Then later in class, I can switch it up a little and pair RED with GREEN, then ORANGE with BLUE.
Using bands is awesome for stations or games that have a lot of teams. I'll use the upper portion of my screen to indicate where students go. Check out the image below to see how I do it with a game called Lumberjacks and Planters. Every 60-90 seconds, the slide changes (with a loud DING), and the colors on the top row switch. This way, everybody can quickly rotate to the next position.
In this slide, the YELLOWS and GREENS are lumberjacks. BLUES, PURPLES, AND PINKS are planters. REDS are climbing the rock wall. And ORANGES are dribbling behind the mats.
Other times, I'll hand out wristbands, then people with the same color are ENEMIGOS. In this type of game, the only people they're playing against are people with the same color band. I love throwing this into the mix because they'll get into teams of their best friends, then you pit them against each other. It's important to be able to work with others. But it's also an important life skill to be able to play against people you like.
The Too-Many-Bands Tactic
My new favorite thing to do is to throw out more than enough bands. Say I have 22 kids and I need 5 teams. I'll throw out 5 bands of 5 different colors. This really throws off the kids who are good at math. But I let them know that some teams will have more people, which can sometimes mean less opportunity. And other times, teams will have fewer people, which can mean more individual opportunity. If it's really lopsided, I'll typically jump in and play with the team that needs a little extra help.
A great example of this is Ultimate Kickball. It works best with small teams. I usually do a rotation of four teams. Each team will go through a 2 minute rotation of Kick, Rest, Field, Rest. If teams have more players, they get fewer chances to kick and field, but they get to be with who they want to be with. On the flip side, the teams with fewer people get tons of reps kicking and fielding. And each player can choose how they prefer to work.
From time to time, I'll also use bands in some games as fun consequences. If they break a rule of the activity, I might give them a band that tells them they can't use an arm for a while or that they can't use their voice. It's a fun way to get them solving problems creatively.
Most equipment I get comes in the colors RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, and PURPLE. So I started with at least a dozen of each of those colors. Then you can match bands to equipment if you want.
When class is over, I throw out a dot of each color we used that day and students just drop their band on the right color of dot before lining up to leave. I always make sure I have them all before I dismiss the class. Most of the time, there are a couple students who are extra forgetful and might try to walk out with it still on their wrist or in their pocket.
If I'm using colors that don't match my dots, I'll have them drop the bands in a certain place then call a student helper to organize them and count them.