Using a carousel approach

What is a carousel approach?

A carousel approach is one where learners experience a variety of activities within one session, and move round from one activity to another swiftly and easily. A typical carousel session in football or school PE may involve several activities being set-up, and pairs or small groups of children moving around these. This could be managed by having a set amount of time on each activity, or less usually by giving children the choice of which activity they want to go on.

However, the learners don't necessarily need to be split into smaller groups in order for it to be a carousel approach; The England DNA approach to carousels seems to imply that a larger group of players be taken together through a set of activities. There is a stress in the England DNA documentation that the next activity be set-up before the previous one finished - thus not wasting valuable session time. If you think about a carousel at the fairground, the horses need to continue rotating without stopping.

After exploring Ball Rolling Time in a previous blog, this article will examine another important block of the England FA DNA: Using a carousel approach to practice design. We will examine this block in relation to the way we plan, deliver and reflect on practices for children.

Advantages of this approach

  • Maximises learning time. Because activities are organised beforehand, there is no wasted time. Groups or pairs can move from one activity to another quickly and efficiently.
  • Provides variety. Children stay motivated, interested and keen.
  • Gives choice. In some carousels, it may be appropriate for children to choose which station or activity to go on. They can also be encouraged to choose how to use equipment (e.g. change area size, or amend task).
  • Allows competition. Beat own score, beat previous groups score, beat partner.
  • Enhances learning. Allows for easy grouping of children according to ability. Child-centred approach frees teacher or coach of organisational role during session so they can actually teach individuals within the activity. 

Examples of carousel sessions...

Agility, balance and co-ordination carousel for pairs of young footballers

In this carousel, children need to be fairly able with a ball. We use this kind of carousel at MoF, usually on half-term weekends when we may have smaller group sizes and might join two groups together. We therefore have a mixed-ability group with a large ability gap. By pairing children of roughly equal ability, we can give all children someone to work with who is about the same level. This helps everyone achieve at their level. We often add in a 1v1 station (e.g. panna or line ball) and sometimes a 2v2 small game station also - just to add some games and variety.

A 'shooting' carousel for individual football children

There are obvious safety factors in this kind of carousel, however it is a good warm-up for a shooting and finishing session and gives coaches the chance to work with individuals who need technical help in specific types of pass or shot. We often add goalkeepers for this kind of carousel, as long as the children can be trusted to only shoot on the GKs signal. It can be made more realistic by having a 1v1 set-up before the shot, so a player needs to be beat a defender before making the shot. This is important as otherwise it can become free-kick practice rather than actual game-like shooting practice.

A 3v3 invasion games carousel for small groups in KS2 PE

The PE KS2 curriculum does not state which games children should learn, so there is no need to plan a school programme based on specific sports (e.g. Term 1 = Netball and Cricket). Rather, the curriculum lends itself to a skill-based programme. For example, in one half-term a class might examine 'Attacking Tactics in Invasion Games' and use lots of different games to study and learn about attacking. The kind of carousel above can be used for children to move round, playing against different teams in different invasion games. The exact attacking tactics used will be different in the different sports because of the restrictions and freedoms in the rules (e.g. you can't pass forward in rugby, or you can't travel with the ball in netball). Children love the variety of a lesson like this, and it can be a very useful way to explore attacking concepts such as Creating Space to Attack, Breaking Through a Defence, Combining with a Partner to Score, etc.

A football skills carousel for individual children

The video below shows a carousel we put together for a Holiday Programme we ran a few summers ago. It rained heavily all day, so we quickly put together seven activities for the children to play on. Small groups, grouped by ability, went round the stations, and later we turned the activity into a competition with coaches scoring children.

This carousel was part of our award-winning MoF Learning-to-Learn holiday programme 2012. There is another MoF video including a multi-sport carousel here.

A Ball Skills circuit for small groups in KS1 PE

From top left (clockwise): 1. Throwing balls into boxes; 2. Throwing beanbags into hoops; 3. Throwing and catching beanbags; 4. Rolling hoops at a target; 5. Bouncing and catching basketballs in pairs

This was a lesson I observed in a primary school. The photos were taken before the children arrived in the hall. The teacher had spent 10 minutes getting all the equipment in the right places during playtime. The children arrived in the hall and were into practical learning within 20 seconds. Movements were quick between stations, and the teacher was able to teach and extend children. Overall, there was 75% of Active Learning Time in this session. [This was an excellent lesson as it dispelled the myth that you can't deliver high activity lessons for large class groups in small halls. You can, it is possible].

Speed work carousel for KS4 children in MoF Futsal Club

I have included this example to show the value of well-organised carousels for speed work for older children. The example in the video below is from the MoF Futsal Club, and shows four activities that challenge children to accelerate in different ways. In these types of carousels, it is vital that children are given a break between turns. The aim is to develop good technique; a few well-performed sprints will be more beneficial than lots of tired repetitions. The role of the coach however is the same - to work with individuals within the activity and to use peer demonstrations of good practice to help teach the group.

Top Tips for Using Carousels in Sessions


  1. Plan according to your curriculum of study. Think about the overall outcomes you want to achieve. Use a variety of stations, but keep it simple.
  2. No queues or waiting at stations, if possible.
  3. Use playground equipment and lines (also use table-tennis table, basketball hoop etc).
  4. Include ways for children to record score or beat own score.
  5. Plan how to extend stations for those who need challenge, and to make things easier for those who need support. Plan what you will teach, and how.
  6. Consider grouping of children by ability and confidence for carousels which include competitive games.
  7. Set-up stations before children arrive, if possible.


  1. Show stations quickly and efficiently. Consider using labels or instructions for stations. If in school PE, can stations be explained in classroom while children are changing?
  2. Teach individuals. Teach individuals. Teach individuals. You won't be able to teach everyone in a session one-to-one, but aim to make a real difference to those you do have time with.
  3. Get some groups to demonstrate what they have done or how they have worked on a station. This inspires, shares ideas and recognises achievement.
  4. Quick movements of pairs or groups from one station to the next.


    1. At the end of the session or lesson, rather than ask the children "What did you learn today?" (which is a daft question given that learning is elusive, unpredictable, often unrecognisable, and doesn't come in bite-size lesson-size chunks), how about asking:
    • "What did you try today that was different?"
    • "What did you find difficult today?" & "How did you deal with it?"
    1. Measure Active Learning Time - to check you are maximising learning time.
    2. Reflect on what worked, ask children what they think (keep some stations, change others?). Videoing sessions is a great way to do this, as often a video will show a more honest reflection of the session than your own experience.

    Below: A simple set-up for a station in a Gymnastics carousel. The teacher has labelled instructions, ideas and suggestions at each station.

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      By Mark Carter, November 2015

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    Mark Carter

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