Designing a Communal Leisure Space

By Rudy Blanco, August 17, 2010

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Urban Planning

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

282 minutes for classroom activities; 60 to 90 minutes for homework


In this design project, the leadership and civics class will design a communal recreational space that will be used by all of the schools in our building.  The existing courtyard has a few grassy areas with several trees that are not being used.  Students will be required to research the current purpose of the courtyard and interview administrators and students about how the area can be put to better use in order to build a sense of community within the campus.  Students will be required to research the general function of recreational spaces in their community such as parks and playgrounds and by doing so, they will be able to redesign the courtyard so as to serve the same purpose for the smaller school community.

National Standards

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.


Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:


Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.


Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes1:


Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions  of Standard English: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:


Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.


Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

National Visual Arts Standards 

Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning. Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work. Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context. Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. Anchor Standard #11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.



Students will be able to:
  • identify the parties responsible for assigning roles and functions to space within a building with many schools
  • research and understand the purpose, importance and benefits of recreational space within a community
  • understand what the different parts of a community are and how they relate to their own experiences within the school community
  • prepare probing and relevant interview questions
  • interview students, staff and administrators and propose a re-design for approval
  • work with other group members to establish a working prototype


New YorkState Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Web site:

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Web site:

maps and outlines for NYC parks

computer with Internet access to take virtual tours of NYC parks

one digital camera per group

Creating Good Interview and Survey Questions (guide):


  • cardboard
  • construction paper
  • markers
  • glitter
  • glue
  • rubber bands
  • pipe cleaners
  • poster paper
  • wire strips
  • cotton balls
  • wooden craft sticks
  • oak tag paper
  • pencils
  • transparency papers
  • Class set of notepads



Before the design project is introduced, students in the Student Council/Leadership class will be given an overview of the importance of establishing a community within a neighborhood (larger context) and within a school (smaller context). Students will be given background on our school’s courtyard and how it is currently not being used. An overview of the design project is offered to the students.

Day 1: Setting the Stage

1. Break students up into five groups of four and have each group assign the following two roles for the remainder of the project:

  • Time Keeper – Keeps time for the rest of the period
  • Recorder – Takes notes on important things discussed in the group

2. The teacher should put a poster paper on the board and write the word “Community” in the center. Now, working together as a whole class, students will brainstorm words related to the word “community.”  This brainstorm poster will be left up for the remainder of the project in order to provide kids with constant words of reference that they can use while they design their projects.

3. Ask students to discuss the following questions in their groups, have the recorder take notes on the most important points:

  • Recall the most recent time when you’ve visited a park—why did you go there and who did you go with?
  • Why do you think parks, playgrounds and other recreational spaces are important in building a community?
  • Are there any places in this building that can be used as a recreational space for all of the schools?

4. For the remainder of the class, students will use laptops to research Claremont Park at the following Web site: (or a local community park). Claremont Park is a community park right behind our school building.  Students will compare what they discussed prior to this research with what they find on the Web site.  Students will develop a list of all of the facilities and programs available at the park.  Once on the Web site, students will read about the history of the park as well as what it provides for its “users” and how the park helps to establish a sense of community.  Students will focus on a particular facility or program available at the park and study it in further detail.

(Note: By the end of the lesson, students must have identified one particular area, facility, or program in the park that they would like to analyze further the following day.)

5. It is imperative that the recorder takes notes on what the groups deem as “areas of interest” in the park and the facilities and programs available.

Day 2: External Research

(Note: Before the trip to the park, students will be told that the goal of this trip is to collect information and data on how they can use the feel, mood, and goals of a park to develop a recreational space on our own school campus.)

1. Students will spend ten minutes creating interview questions for people in the park. The questions must fall within the following guidelines:

  • Questions must be relevant to the project at hand
  • Questions must help define what people consider to be a “community”
  • Questions must help identify why people use the park
  • Questions must shed light on why the park is important to the community or to the individual

2. Students will take a trip to the park to further develop their concepts and ideas as to what it is that makes a park a part of the community.  This trip to the park will be used to collect data from people using the facilities and participating in the programs.  Different groups will go to different facilities in the park based on the research from the day before.

Day 3: Internal Research

(Note: In advance of sending students out to interview respective members of the administrations of the different schools, appointments will be set up and groups will be assigned to one administration member per school in the building.)

1. The principal of our school will be invited to speak to the class about who the governing body of the entire campus is.  The principal will provide the class with an overview of who is on the governing body and what their roles are in deciding to keep the courtyard closed.  The principal will also speak to the students about the courtyard and why it is not open for use.

2. During this section, students must use information found during their research on the use of recreational space to build community to develop their interview questions.  Their goal is to inform the administrators of their purpose.

3. During different lunch periods, students will interview students from other schools that share our campus about what they think the courtyard can be used for and whether it would be a good idea to open it up for the building.

Day 4: Brainstorming and Building A Model

1. Using the supplies given to them and with all of the research that they have collected, students now begin to brainstorm as to how they would like to see the courtyard space used.  Groups will be given the entire period to brainstorm ideas and to start building a prototype of their re-design project. Guidelines for today’s lesson are as follows:

  • Students must incorporate some of the ideas given to them by their fellow students
  • Students must also adhere to the administration’s demands and guidelines as well as working around current issues that keep the courtyard closed
  • Students must design at least one program that can be implemented in the courtyard

Students will have the entire class period to work on their respective designs.

Day 5: Building the Model

1. Students will have this entire period to further develop their ideas, build a final model, and prepare for presentation to the administrative board and representatives from the student council boards of each respective school.  Guidelines for presentation:

  • All students must be involved in the presentation and must speak at least once
  • Students must use their research findings and their original ideas in the presentation of their design
  • Students must write up their findings and presentation
  • Students must highlight the benefits of having a recreational space on the school campus and what can be gained from it for the students, staff, and the administration

 Day 6: Presentation

1. Students present their models to the administration board responsible for deciding whether or not the courtyard should be opened again.  Students will also be presenting to student representatives from all of the other schools.  Each group will have a total of eight minutes to present their findings and their possible solutions.

2. Students must write up a 2-3 page summary of the project, along with their own personal opinion, as to why a recreational space can be used to build community


There are three assignments within this lesson that will assess whether or not the objectives of the lesson were met:

  • the creation of their design prototype
  • the oral presentation
  • a 2-3 page summary of the project along with their own personal opinion as to why a recreational space can be used to build community

Enrichment Extension Activities

Given that this particular lesson is for a civics, leadership, or student council class,  the enrichment or extension lessons would be to have students plan future events around the redesigned space as well as vote in a committee responsible for the maintenance and use of the space over time.

  1. I like this idea and lesson plan! There are spaces in my own community that I am working to have students design. I will use this plan to guide our work. Thanks for posting!

  2. Cool lesson! I like the idea of community spaces as the main theme of the lesson because this opens it up to cross-curricular potential. I can easily see a writing assignment in which the students can make a community space poetry inspired anthology of the students, faculty, and community memories’ of their own community spaces. A math course can begin to look at angles and geometric shapes and principles of existing community spaces and the school’s space.

    I also think that in the presentation portion of the lesson it would be a good idea to have the student models displayed somewhere in the school where everyone has visual access to, and incorporate an opportunity for the student body and staff to vote on the best ideas.

  3. I have a similar idea for a design project that has students design a green space in an urban setting. While this lesson is primarily a civics lesson, it can extend to the sciences, especially Biology and Environmental science, if students in that discipline are tasked to design the landscaping for the community space.

    Students in Biology or Environmental Science can approach a project like this by suggesting plants or tress that would best fit the ecosystem. Students can propose a maintenance system that is based on the biological needs of the vegetation.

    Very cool lesson.

  4. Having students give input on designing public spaces is a great motivator and empowering tool. I like to model building. I agree the models should be displayed somewhere that all students in the school can look at them. Knowing their models will be on display like this should also be an incentive to do better work in the model building.

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