Group Lesson Lexicon


When I first started teaching group lessons as a teenager, I was stiff as a corpse and about as fun as one, too. I commenced each class standing very straight, with clipboard in hand. I took attendance with the stoicism of a 1950’s schoolmarm, consulted my syllabus, then methodically went through the proscribed elements in a manner I thought exuded professionalism and demanded respect.

Well, I found out pretty quickly that this was a Recipe for Rambunctious. The more strict and serious I tried to be, the more monkey-like the kids became: I had to chase them down, stop them from crawling up the plexi-glass, and even pull a few down from the rafters. The amount of intentional falling that transpired made it look as if I was teaching a stunt class. Conversely, and surprisingly, the goofier (and more monkey-like) I became, the more they tended to pay attention, line up like little soldiers, and march obediently the length of my coned-off lane.

And, so “if my friends could see me now” on Fridays for my Snowplow Sam 3 class, they might see me on my hands and knees barking like a dog, marching through “the swamp” while growling like a Mud Monster, or ribbitting as I hop merrily along. Just about everything I say ends in an exclamation point! And the amount of obvious questions I ask – such as, “Can you count to 2?” and “Do frogs say ‘oink’?” – has convinced my young students that I am either an A-1 jokester or a certifiable idiot. Probably many of you are reducing yourself to equally humiliating tactics. And these are probably standard-issue methods for pre-school teachers, parents, or caregivers of young children, but I am none of these, so I had to get here on my own; thank heaven I did. 

A few years ago, I heard about something called the FISH philosophy, a set of workplace principles based on the wacky antics of the fish throwers at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. I guess it all started because it was easier and faster to fling the fish to each other across the vast fish counters than to carry the fish all the way around. This resulted in a lot of laughs on the part of the workers and the customers. (I think it has been scientifically proven that flying fish are objectively funny, even more so when the catcher misses, or gets bonked in the head.) In short, people were HAVING FUN AT WORK and customers were responding. Someone from Minnesota took note of this and ballooned it into a whole motivational lesson for corporate America.

Don’t worry, I’m not contemplating flinging fish at any of my co-workers (though there are one or two clowns who deserve to get cold-clocked, and I think you know who you are) and I’m not going to start throwing fish at my students, either. But we spend so many hours at work, so sometimes it’s necessary to conjure the image of those fish throwers, to remember that it’s not about just getting through any particular day, it’s about enjoying it.

And if this requires making a fool of myself, then I’m obviously game. My crazy group lesson routine keeps things fun for the kids and it’s also an entertainment mechanism for me. I only teach two beginner group lessons per week, but there was a time when I taught 12. Those half hours felt like eternities until I loosened up and reverted to my child-like self. Now, I look forward to Snowplow Sam 3 as a nice oasis from the higher-level hoi polloi (the entertainment aspect for those lessons gets pulled from a different bag of tricks.)  I’ve also found that the younger students bring into my life a delightful number of non-sequitors. (Case in point: see this week’s Skater Quote of the Week, over to the right). Besides, beginners do literally bring us back to basics. There is value in watching the weeble-wobbling of four year-old boys in hockey skates beyond the comedic: they help remind us how slippery ice is, how strange, and unnatural and downright funny it is to try and balance on it, especially at first. 

The main thing I’ve realized lately is that, like many of you, I’ve pretty much abandoned all the original terminology and replaced it with my own, or an amalgam of lingo I’ve picked up from coaches in adjacent lanes, over the years. In fact, if you were to consult the Basic Skills Manual to try and follow along with me, you might not be able to decipher which class I’m teaching. I just make sure to sneak in the more traditional, “correct” terms toward the end of the series, as we near evaluation day, so that when these kids graduate onto the next coach’s class, they have some idea what is going on.

So I’ve written up my own Group Lesson Lexicon (specific to Snowplow Sam 3) in order to justify my questionable behavior on Fridays. It seems like a good document to keep in my pocket in case they storm the rink and come at me with a straight jacket. This, I believe, will Explain Things, and confirm that there is a method to my madness. (Of course, this explanation could tip the scales in either direction – it might prove my sanity or quite the opposite…You be the Technical Specialist.)


(Note: This terminology has not been approved, sanctioned or endorsed by the USFS, the ISU, the PSA, the director at your rink, or any other skating organization. Peruse at your own discretion.)

Tables: Arms up to the side with so much tension that a cup of hot chocolate wouldn’t topple off. For further description, see archives of Skater Quote of the Week in column to right. 

Speed Marches: Small, staccato steps with verbal accompaniment, “1-2-1-2…” This is a good opportunity to ask if students can count to two, a feat they’re quite proud to demonstrate. It nicely targets the skaters who are only picking up one foot. 

Monster Marches: Marches so giant you could travel through a swamp with them, stepping through mud, over lily pads, etc. (waders not included). This is designed to trick skaters into picking up their feet higher. Growling recommended.

Statues: Two-foot glides, “without moving one inch!” Variation for those living in New York State or those with historical leanings: Statue of Liberties with the arm holding torch way above head. Observation: If, while in either of these statue positions, coach faces students and widens eyes in a frozen, trance-like manner, 99% of students will mimic this expression.  

Frog Hops: Two foot hops. Ribbitting required. Requests to instead bark, moo, whinny, oink, or abstain from sound effects altogether during this exercise should be submitted by students, in writing, to the front office and will be considered in the order they are received.  

Combo: A dip “as low as you can go!” directly followed by a hop, “as high as you can go!” This provides an excellent chance to teach the word “combination” i.e. putting together two things, Sesame Street style. Research has proven that the word “COMBO!” is as fun to yell out before this exercise as GERONIMO! is before jumping out of a plane or CHARGE! before riding your horse into sword battle.  

Double Combo: Twice the fun, and more opportunities to ribbitt.

Swizzles: Swizzles. No need to tinker with this word, since it’s obviously silly enough. Recommendation: With magic marker, draw little pictures on the ice for them to swizzle their feet around and don’t feel self-conscious when a) your skaters mistake your moon for a banana, your flower for a sun, or your tree for a person, especially when b) the coach in the lane next to you, who is an actual artist, has quickly sketched a parade of beautiful princesses.    

Blast Off: Counting down from 5 then shoving off the boards backwards. Be sure to not laugh aloud when half of the class immediately folds forward onto their mittens.

Pineapples: Forward and Back Swizzles in place, a.k.a. Rocking Horses, a.k.a. Footballs. To Whomever I first saw draw this tropical fruit on the ice: Brilliant, truly brilliant!

Curvies: Slaloms. Most adults, let alone children, have trouble pronouncing the word slaloms. Or maybe it’s just me.

Snowplow Stops: Snowplow Stops. The imagery here is sufficiently vivid, especially during snowstorm season. Tip: Harness the collective power of your little worker bees by getting them to scrape away or “erase” with their blades your pitiful swizzle artwork, so that coaches in later classes don’t see it.  

Flamingos: One foot glides with the freeskate bent up to the height of the other knee. Observation: When you tell students that this is how flamingoes take naps and then ask if this is how they take naps, they’ll all cry out, indignantly, “No!” If you, in turn, ask them how they take naps, it’s uncanny – they’ll all simultaneously, as if it has been choreographed, close their eyes, flatten their hands together like pillows, and tilt their heads adorably upon them.

Scooter Pushes: Stroking back with one foot at a time. “One foot pushes and the other one rides!” There are about two kids left in the country who do not have Razor Scooters. If they happen to end up in your class, you’ll give them the much-needed opportunity to experience (approximately) what they’ve been missing.

Screwdrivers: A cocktail composed of vodka and orange juice…Oops! I mean: Marching around in place in a circle with arms down at sides, the result of which is a dizziness and disorientation akin to intoxication.


Of course, none of the above terms are patented, so feel free to incorporate any ones you don’t already use into your own classes. And, PLEASE share some of your tricks with the rest of us by clicking on Comments, below.

To watch a short video about the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, check out: 




  1. J. Walker · October 30, 2007

    I found the teaching method explained here VERY inventive. If a teacher (coach) loves what they are doing–the young (and older) students will love to learn. BRAVO

  2. Alyssa · October 31, 2007

    Thanks for the tip to incorporate the “correct terms” towards the end of the session. One time a kid left my class and told her new teacher that she didn’t know how to do swizzles… when the teacher demonstrated, she exclaimed, “OH! Fishies!!” (I draw two fish kissing to make the skaters do two swizzles in a row. I emphasize the kissing part by telling my students to make their toes kiss!)

    As for snow plow stops, kids get a kick out of me picking up the snow they’ve made from their plowing, and making it “snow” on them!

  3. Margaret · November 1, 2007

    Your ideas are great and I’ll bet that your “kids” love your classes. Keep having fun!

  4. BA · November 3, 2007

    I remember the days of group lessons… oh how creative an instructor must be to keep all those little minds occupied and entertained. I personally used to love drawing on the ice!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s