Simple Coffee Can Games for PE


I began my teaching career in the Washington, DC public school system back in 1995.  I worked at a small elementary school with an even smaller budget for supplies and equipment. Each year I was allotted $200.00 to purchase and replace equipment including recess balls.  Countless teachers are annually faced with a similar financial dilemma.  They are challenged to delve into their creative minds in search of resources to ensure that students reap the benefits of a quality educational experience.

 Only after a brief amount of time as a physical education teacher, I discovered one such practical, inexpensive resource.  COFFEE CANS!  Despite going from aluminum to plastic, and the assortment of shapes and sizes throughout the years, two things remain constant, durability and functionality.  My classes would use them as stepping stones in cooperative games, create coffee can stilts to use as a locomotor station, and as drums for rhythm stick routines.  Using coffee cans also allowed me the opportunity to reinforce and encourage the reduce, reuse, recycle concept.  

To this day, despite working at an amazing school with ample resources, I still incorporate coffee can games into my curriculum.  Here are few of my all-time favorites:

The Percolator/ Partner Percolator

Percolator is an opportunity for students to work individually and with a partner on hand-eye coordination.  As shown in the video, the object is to repeatedly strike the ball ( Lite Flight Softballs) in the air using the bottom of the coffee can.  Once the students masters the basics, they can advance to more challenging tasks at their own pace.  Such challenges include:

  • Striking with different parts of the can
  • Consecutive strikes challenge
  • Striking then catching the ball
  • Tossing the ball up from inside the can (serving) before striking.
  • Partner striking

Just when I think I’ve seen every possible percolator challenge, a students will surprise me with something new.

Strikeball Junior

Strikeball junior can be played cooperatively and competitively.

Cooperatively: The object of the game is for partners to pass a ball back and forth using the bottom of the coffee can.  For each successful catch, they receive a point.  I usually with have a series of one-minute challenges. “How many catches can you and your partner make in one minute?”  Another way to play strikeball cooperatively is to challenge partners to count the number of consecutive catches they can make.

Competitively: The object of the competitive version of strikeball junior is for serving player to throw a ball off the bottom of the can so the opposing player in unable to catch it.  The serving player can throw the ball off the can from any distance.  The ball must hit the bottom of the can cleanly.  If the server throws the ball off side or edge of the can or completely misses the can, a point is award to the opposing player.  If the ball is cleanly served, the opposing player must catch the ball. If the ball is caught, that player returns the ball by throwing it off the bottom of the can. Play continues until the ball eventually hits the ground.  Points are NOT awarded for catches.  The player receiving the point earn the right to serve.  First player to seven wins the game.

The Race to 2 – Sportsmanship Game

One of my favorite “coffee can” games is the Race to 2 (Race to 3 for older students).  Before the students arrive I set up the cans throughout the gym, each with two hollow plastic balls.  When students enter the gym, they immediately pair up and go to a coffee can.  The object of the game is to be the first to bounce a ball into the can three times.  Once a match is over, each player MUST shake hands and say, “good game.”  Each player then finds a new player to challenge.  I use this activity as a way to reinforce SPORTSMANSHIP with my students.  It also happens to be an all-time favorite among students.

Espresso (End Zone)

End Zone keeps students moving while enhancing teamwork, hand-eye coordination, and strategic thinking.  Each set of partners has one coffee can and on ball.  The goal is to successfully pass the ball across the gym.  Beginning on the end line, one partner has the ball and the other has the coffee can.  The partner with the coffee can runs out in the direction of the the opposite end line or end zone.  This partner needs to choose a distance that’s not too far for the throwing partner.  The throwing partner then tosses the ball while the partner holding the coffee can attempts to catch it.  For younger students, I allow a one bounce rule. The partners switch roles at the point of each successful catch.  If the ball is dropped, then the ball goes back to the spot of the last successful catch.  When partners catch a ball in the end zone, they receive one point, then sprint back to the beginning to try again.

Coffee Can Points Challenge -Level 1

Coffee Can Points Challenge -Level 2

Using either cones, poly spots, or the lines in your gym, mark off four catching zones.  The size of each zone is determined by the age and/or ability of your students.  Each zone has a point value.  Zone one equals 2 points, zone 2 equals 4 points, zone 3 equals 6 points, and zone 4 equals 8 points.  With a partner, students line up behind the throwing line, which is the edge of zone one.  One the signal, one partner runs out to one of the zones with a coffee can.  The other partner tosses a ball from the throwing line.  If the partner with the coffee can catches the ball, they are awarded points based on the zone where the ball is caught. If the ball is caught on one bounce, partners receive half the point value per zone.  So instead of receiving 6 points for zone 4, partners will earn 3 points.   No points are awarded if the ball is dropped.  After each throw, partners switch roles.

I always play multiple rounds.  Between rounds each set of partners has an opportunity to discuss strategy.  Specifically, what worked and what didn’t work, and how they can adjust their strategy for subsequent rounds.

Coffee Can Hot Spots

I like to play this game during my underhand tossing unit.  Students are partnered up around the outside perimeter.  The goal of the game is to collect as many dome cones as possible.  One partner sprints out to a cone while holding the coffee can.  Partner two tosses a ball out to partner one.  If partner one catches the ball inside the coffee can, he picks up the cone and returns it to partner two.  Then each partner switches roles.  With my younger groups, I allow the ball to bounce.  I often play this as a whole group cooperative challenge.  How long will it take the class to clear all the cones?

Freedom to Explore and Create Coffee Can Games

Throughout the school year, I’ll set up a variety of stations for my students.  One station will usually consist of placing various pieces of equipment to challenge the students to create a new game.  Student never cease to amaze me in what they discover!

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3 Comments on “Simple Coffee Can Games for PE

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – February 2017 Edition – drowningintheshallow

    • jcahill – I have been teaching physical education for 27 years. I began my career teaching in Washington, DC before moving to Atlanta, Georgia to teach at Trinity School. I have a passion for keeping kids healthy and moving during each PE lesson, and throughout their lives. I’m a firm believer that recess is a right and NOT a privilege. Please check out and join my Facebook group called Keeping Kids in Motion. I am happily married and have three beautiful children who are constantly KEEPING ME IN MOTION!

      Thanks for sharing.

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