It’s easy to forget the power of words, especially when you spend your day in front of a classroom or conversing with parents.

The language we choose as teachers and principals has a big impact on the playground. When students engage in new activities or push themselves out of a comfort zone, they need encouragement from adults. Positive language promotes inclusion and strengthens adult-to-kid and kid-to-kid connections.

Use Lightning Lingo

Positive language, or Lightning Lingo, starts with adults. When kids see adults modeling any type of behavior, they will mimic it both in and out of the classroom. 

Here are some encouraging phrases and actions to share with your recess staff:

At recess:

  • To encourage kids during games like four square: Give a high five or say, “Nice job!”
  • When a student is trying a game for the first time: “You’re a natural!”
  • When a student made a mistake or was less successful in a game: “Good job, nice try!”
  • During transitions from game to game: “Way to try something new!”
  • During transitions from recess to lunch/class: “Nice job walking back to class so quietly and respectfully.”

In the classroom:

  • When a child is giving their best effort: “Way to stick with it! I know that was hard.”
  • Following a round of Rock Paper Scissors: “Good job!” or “Thank you for solving the conflict on your own.”
  • During transitions around the classroom: “I like how _____ is standing in line quietly.

What you can try this week:

  • Model behavior: Play a game with your students at recess and be intentional about the positive words you use.
  • Give high fives whenever you can: while playing games, in the classroom, or anytime you see something great!
  • Teach or encourage another adult on campus to model positive language.


Curious to see how your recess stacks up? Take the Recess Checkup—a three-minute, online quiz designed to help you identify strengths and uncover areas for improvement.

Now, our kids have a common positive language for play at recess and other times.

Barnes Elementary School, Pacific NW, July 2017

Lightning Lingo

Hang this reminder to use positive language in your hallways or classrooms.

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