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The Centipede

Teamwork, endurance, and spurts of speed come into play in this baton-passing game

Tags: elementary school, pacing

Objectives This is a team-based, baton-passing game in which the last runner in line sprints to the front when she gets the baton. Students learn to run at a controlled slow and steady pace, and develop their ability to surge for short bursts.
Standards National Standards for Physical Education (NASPE)
Standards 1,5
New York State Education Department (NYSED)
Standard 1
Time Required 20 minutes
Materials One baton for each group of 5-12 runners


Prepare for the Activity

  • Watch The Centipede video below to see how to conduct the game.
  • Define a course where students can run for somewhere between 400-800 meters.


Events Play

Teaches running at a controlled pace and the ability to surge.

Click here to access on Teacher Tube

Introduce the activity

  • Name the game and tell your students its purpose: “Today we’re going to play a fun follow-the-leader type game. Most of the time you’ll be running at a nice, easy pace, but at other times you’ll have to sprint to the front of your group, so you can learn to ‘turn on your jets’ when you have to. Let me explain how it works.”
  • Explain how the game works: Like a centipede, a team will run in one long line, with teammates close to each other. The leader will have a baton, which will be passed back from teammate to teammate until the last person in line gets the baton. This person will then sprint to the head of the line and the process will continue.
  • Tell them where they are to run and for how long or for how many laps.
  • Remind them of the Animal Run activity. Emphasize that when it is their turn to sprint they should go as fast as they can, like a cheetah, but that the pace of the line should be a slow jog, like a pig. It is the leader’s job to keep the slow pace. If they are far ahead of the rest of their line, they are not being a good leader!

Conduct the activity

  1. Split your students into groups of anywhere from 5-12 students. If your students are inexperienced, smaller groups can be easier to keep together, and make for shorter sprints.
  2. Give the lead person in each group a baton, and have their teammates line up behind them, just a few feet apart. They will need to stay close in order to be able to pass the baton.
  3. Start them off. Make sure if you have multiple teams that they understand they are not racing each other.
  4. As they run, remind each group to stay together and to run slowly. If the students are having trouble maintaining the slow pace, jog with them to help them do so.

Assess the Students

What to watch for:

  • Lines staying together.
  • Leaders maintaining a slow, even pace.
  • Students transitioning quickly from jogging to sprinting and back to jogging.
  • Decent running form (form might be slightly compromised by the baton passing, but kids shouldn't be shuffling along; they should be mostly able to jog with decent form)

Direction cues to share with students:

  • “Stay together! Remember, you’re a centipede!”
  • “Slow down a bit. Remember to keep it at pig pace!” (To the leader if they are running too fast)
  • “Fast as a cheetah!” (To sprinters who are going a little slow)

Note: Only give a student one direction at a time.


When you've completed The Centipede, talk to your students about their experience with the activity. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  • Was it hard to stay together as a team?
  • Did you have trouble keeping a slow, steady pace? Why?
  • Why was it important for the line to run at a slow pace? (To conserve energy so you could run for a long time and so you were able to sprint when it was your turn)
  • How did it feel to burst to the lead once you got the baton?
  • What were the main differences in using your arms and legs when you went from jogging to sprinting? (Pumping your arms more, lifting your knees more, pushing off the ground harder and faster, and taking longer strides in sprinting)


  • Decide on a subject category—for example, colors or animals—and each time a student sprints to the beginning of the line, he or she calls out a different name in that category.
  • Let students pick their own route on a playground or field, going in a squiggly path like a centipede.
  • As students get comfortable with The Centipede make the lines longer, for a more challenging exercise.

Inclusion Strategies

Classrooms are filled with learners who demonstrate a variety of needs and abilities, including ESL students, those with disabilities, and gifted/talented students. Consider these adaptations as you work to modify the lesson for student success.

  • Use something other than a baton, maybe a sensory ball or something squishy with a lot of texture.
  • Have students hold one hand on a rope to keep in line.
  • Have two people instead of one run from the back to the front.
  • Have students walk through the actions multiple times to understand when to run and where to run to.
  • Allow room for a student with a walker, crutches, or a wheelchair to maneuver around their peers.
  • Have the set distance marked out so students know where they are running to and how far they have to go.
  • Have multiple distances from short to long and allow the students to choose where they want to start.
  • Give students a sticker or Popsicle stick every time they make it to the front. Then have them turn in stickers or sticks for a reward.
  • Have everyone start running together; once they are ready they can run to the front; it might not be every time it is their turn that they go but every other time or every third time they can go.

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