Junior High

High School


Team / Organized Recess

kids playing outside

Recess provides several benefits to students including improved fitness, brain functioning, and social interaction. Unfortunately, recess can also be the source of most of the behavior issues in a school. Furthermore, students spend approximately 20% of their school day in recess and P.E.

Schools must find a balance between allowing kids to explore and play freely while providing enough supervision, support, and organization to facilitate positive play and interactions. Several schools within Davis School District have employed various models to employ a balance of both structure and choice. These models are often referred to as "Structured" or "Team" recess.


Team Recess is a great way to incorporate positive behavior supports on the playground. The goal is to help students have a safe outlet to exercise and learn social skills that will be vital as they grow older. Occasionally, there is concern that putting more structure into recess takes away from students' ability to have freedom to play how they want. However, in reality it teaches them prosocial team-building skills and promotes interaction among all students.


"If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you're giving them in their memory, you've got to give them regular breaks"

Dr. Bob Murray, Ohio State University pediatrician

Key components

1. Playground layout

map of structured playground
Structured Recess 1
  1. Determine places where students can engage, or not engage, in specific activities.
  2. Create a map of playground layout and post in visible areas.
  3. Ensure that there is space designated for free play.
  4. Have a backup plan with designated areas for potential indoor recess (in case of inclement weather).
  5. Ensure that all spaces meet required standards for safety. Check for any potential blind spots and make sure that all areas of the playground will be within line of sight of adult supervisors.
  6. Train staff and students on playground boundaries with follow-up trainings throughout the year
Equipment container
Jump ropes hanging from fence

2. Rules and expectations

recess expectations
  1. Establish expectations for appropriate behavior and rules for games and activities.
  2. Make sure that recess expectations align with current school-wide expectations.
  3. Post these expectations in visible locations and post rules near corresponding activities.
  4. Teach expectations and rules and reinforce students who follow them. 
4 Square Rules
Wall Ball Rules


Recess procedures


3. Activities and tying it to PE curriculum

Game Library (from playworks.com) 

Recess game of the week










recess competition





4. Social Emotional Learning

Provide students with targeted lessons on social skills and appropriate play.

Sample topics:

  • Conflict resolution
    • How to handle disagreements (Rock/Paper/Scissors or Ro Sham Bo)
  • Management of emotions
    • Big Problem vs Little Problem

    • Expected vs Unexpected Behaviors

  • Sharing
  • Turn taking
  • Sportsmanship
  • Greeting peers
  • Asking for help

5. Roles and responsibilities

Recess duty
Recess duty playing with students








Several important roles should be established with the following responsibilities. When possible, include students in the planning process. This is especially true when it relates to potential future playground activities.

Recess duty/aide expectations

  • Set-up play equipment and locations for games
  • Supervise students for safety
  • Engage in play with students 
  • Model appropriate interactions (e.g. conflict resolution, taking turns, etc.)
  • Reinforce positive play and playground expectations
  • Refer major behavior incidents to office
  • Track individual student behaviors as needed via Behavior Tracker

P.E. Teachers

  • Teach games and activities in PE that align with recess activities
  • Coordinate with duties and administration to align P.E. lessons and recess activities


  • Occasional observation/participation in recess
  • Observe students of concern
  • Support students with whom counselor works to help students generalize skills

School psychologist

  • Occasional observation/participation in recess
  • Observe students of concern
  • Support students with whom school psychologist works to help students generalize skills


  • Ensure adults (duties, counselors, psychologists) are fulfilling their roles)
  • Ensure training of personnel on their roles
  • Ensure proper implementation of games and activities
  • Allocate resources (funding and personnel) for successful implementation
  • Include observation data in educator evaluation of relevant personnel

Student coaches (if applicable)

  • Help set up playground equipment
  • Model appropriate play for peers
  • Teach younger students rules and procedures of games

6. Students needing additional supports

For students who engage in frequent or continual misbehaviors, it may be appropriate to provide additional supports in the form of one of the following options:

Reinforce positive behaviors - Try to catch the student engaging in expected behaviors more frequently and reinforce the replacement behavior(s) that you are wanting the student to engage in.

Behavior Tracker - Creating a daily behavior tracker can help the student, as well as all adults involved, monitor student progress towards 1-3 behavior goals that have been taught to the student. It helps provide additional structure and motivation for the student. Behavior trackers should be reviewed, ideally at least at the start and end of each recess and may need to be reviewed more often if needed. Trackers should also be tied to appropriate reinforcement options as well as potential consequences. 

Leveled recess system - This is designed to train targeted students in addressing problematic behaviors through a series of progressive levels. Loss of recess should not be a punishment tied to lack of work completion or academic performance. Students on a level system should be closely monitored daily using a behavior tracker.

  1. Full access to participation recess - Student is able to participate in any activity and in any area on the playground.
  2. Partial access to recess zones/activities - student will check in with adult and they will determine what areas and/or games the student will be allowed to participate in. Duties should check in with student regularly. 
  3. Indoor recess -  in a classroom receiving additional instruction on social skills and practicing those skills under adult supervision. (May last a week or longer. This also requires parent notification)
  4. If after multiple attempts at indoor recess with social skills instruction, and no improvement has been made, please contact, consult, and plan with District Case Management.

7. Additional Considerations

  1. Ensure that there are enough resources allocated to make this effective
    1. Check for adequate playground equipment (enough for all and in working condition).
    2. Identify individual(s) who is in charge of set-up/clean-up.
    3. Mark playground to designate play areas.
  2. Choose activities that students want to engage in.
  3. Ensure that there is enough space and/or supervision to make the activities successful.
  4. Plan activities according to appropriate weather.
  5. Gather data
    1. Administrator conduct occasional observations to ensure recess duties are fulfilling there roles appropriately
    2. Measure outcomes by monitoring office referrals, behavior trackers, and climate survey data.
  6. Conduct regular meetings with staff to review outcome data and address any identified problem areas or activities.


Playworks Playlab  https://www.recesslab.org/resources/use-positive-language/

Midway Elementary School