Alternative to Missing Recess

  • Situation

    I have a student who tends to avoid starting independent work and will put it off even with several prompts. If the student doesn’t finish in the time provided, I ask them to stay in for recess to finish in hopes that this will spur on some productivity. Are there any alternatives to missing recess to help students focus and get to work?

  • Summary

    Numerous studies cite the importance of recess for students with benefits in all areas of development. Recess should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons. Numerous strategies can promote alternatives to loss of recess. Single or multiple strategies can be utilized. An alternative to loss of recess is providing the student with the opportunity to work for rewards.

    • Use a visual Independent Work Schedule which lists out tasks that need to be completed by your student. This will help establish a clear routine. Encourage your student’s participation by allowing them to check off each item in the schedule as it is completed.
    • Use a timer with or without audio cues to allow your student to monitor the time allotted for task completion. Your student may even choose to use their own watch or timing device to monitor the time. When using this strategy, be sure that this timing device does not become a source of anxiety for your student.
    • Break down assignments into chunks to help make tasks that may seem overwhelming to your student more manageable. Encourage your student to complete each chunk one section at a time.
    • Use a reinforcement tower to enable your student to track his/her progress towards earning a reward. Each block in the tower will hold a task that needs to be completed with the reward in the block at the end of the activity.
  • Definition

    Alternatives to loss of recess time involve using a variety of visual supports and motivation tools to prompt task completion during class time.


    A visual schedule is a word, picture, or object sequencing of events. A visual schedule can give a sense of time and when an activity will end. Knowing what and when things happen may assist the student with starting and finishing assignments within a segment of routine.


    A visual timer shows the progression of time. This can be a kitchen timer that can be set for x amount of time and then a bell goes off, indicating the time is up. It can be a visual timer without an auditory cue, which indicates time is up when the “red” portion runs out. Some students may be able to use their own watch and set the alarm as a signal for when time is up. A simple sand timer that one finds in games may be used as well.


    Chunking or breaking down the task or assignment into smaller pieces or “chunks” can make overwhelming tasks doable. Review the assignment and divide it into parts and have the student do one part at a time.


    Reinforcement Tower is a unique positive reinforcement system that allows a student to track his own progress and see when he will earn rewards for displaying appropriate behavior. This process allows the student to monitor how close he is to earning a reward. When beginning the process ensure that the student earns a reward quickly, consequently create the tower with fewer steps between each reward. As the student becomes more successful in starting and completing assignments increase the number of blocks between each reward.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Ability to follow a simple visual schedule, ability to understand auditory or visual cues, picture cards or words of student’s daily routine, knowledge of the student’s special interest.

  • Process

    • Start by thinking about the student’s daily routine.

    • Structure the visual schedule by using words (if the student can read), and/or by using pictures with the words to sequence the daily routine.

    • Review the schedule with the student for understanding.  Allow the student to check off each activity as it occurs.

    • Obtain a visual timer.  The visual timer will allow the student to monitor time allotted for his/her completion of assignments.  This will sit next to the student. Use the timer to assist with starting the work at a specified time, as well as, showing the time given to complete the work.  Prompt the student periodically to look at the timer and remind the student when the assignment is nearing the time for completion.

    • Make a decision about which type of chunking you would like to use; including but not limited to visual cues on the paper,  symbols to prompt staring and stopping points, structuring the paper visually, and/or  cutting the paper into sections (please refer to the links provided below for further information about chunking) .

    • Meet with the student and explain the use of the reinforcement system.  Ask the student  to generate a “reward menu”.  Together, come up a list of 5-10 things he/she would like to earn for starting and completing the class assignments on time.

    • Determine how often (the frequency) the student will get a reward  and now you are ready to make the tower (please refer to resource link provided below for further information about making and using reinforcement towers).

    • Determine how you will track the positive behavior.  For example, starting work within 2 minutes may be one step and  completing 5 problems the next step in the tower.

    • Prior to each assignment, remind your student that he/she is working towards a  reward.

    • When the student has started the assignment in a timely manner (as previously determined by you and reviewed with the student) he/she can shade a box.

    • When the student reaches a box with a reward, provide that reward.

    • Continue moving up the tower, until you reach the top.

    • Rewards should be ones that are easily provided in the classroom.  For example you may use stickers of the student’s special interest, gems, computer time, a free homework pass, coloring/drawing sheets, etc.

  • Documents and Related Resources

     Time Timer  (website resource)

   (website resource) The Tough Kid Tool Box by William Jenson, Ginger Rhode, and H Keaton Reavis.  This book focuses on practical management and support systems for classrooms, including great reproducible tracking forms, handouts, and charts.


    Green Dot to Red Dot Visual Chunking  (related answer on this site)


    Reinforcement Tower  (related answer on this site)


    Visual Chunking for Math (related answer on this site)


    Importance of Recess (website article)


    Crucial Role of Recess (website article)


    do2learn  This website has free pictures and schedules.



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