Fast 5 Gamechangers – Revolutionize Classroom Labels for DLLs!


Fast 5 Gamechangers for DLLs

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Preschools have labels because they value ‘environmental print’. But… if no one reads the labels or talks about them, do they really help teach language and literacy? A label that says “chair” doesn’t help a child find a place to sit. Adding different languages to the label nobody reads doesn’t make it any more useful. Adding a picture of the chair to the label of the chair that is on the chair…. well you get the picture.  What if we created a label revolution with these five quick changes?!?

  1. Use labels that actually help children find or choose things. Kids don’t need a label on the bathroom that says “bathroom”. They know where it is and they won’t need to read it. You might need labels to remind children which shelf is for the markers and which shelf is for the crayons. This is a place where multilingual labels can help children and adults learn words in different languages for a purpose.
  2. Change locations so children have to read labels rather than just remembering where things are. If the crayons always go on the same shelf, no one is going to look for the label after the first couple of days. So, put things on different shelves, move around the cubbies, and introduce new items with new labels to draw children’s attention – but not so much as to upset them!
  3. Add labels that show steps to a process so children can complete a task independently by following the labels (via pictures, words or combination). Yes, I know many of you have the sign showing steps to handwashing, but if it’s there all year, when’s the last time anyone talked about the words on it? Time to change things up!
  4. Use labels to support conversations. Instead of a label on the table that says “Table, la mesa”, tape a clear plastic envelope where you can display a changing selection of table topics. One day the words could be about items used to set the table. Another day, they might be words used for sharing, or counting, or serving food. Color code the languages and provide phonetic spelling so adults at the table can use the words in children’s home languages.
  5. Use labels to start conversations during transitions. Hang a ring with index cards by the door with juicy words or conversation questions. When the children are lined up and waiting to go outside, use the ring of cards to find an interesting question to ask in English or the children’s home languages. Ex. “What kinds of animals might we see when we go outside? What do you know about them?” in English and home languages.

You can even make talking labels so you can hear how to pronounce words in the children’s languages. Try a smart pen or create spoken labels using QR codes and handheld devices.  I know we are giving the ECERS designers and the NAEYC Accreditation people something to worry about, but maybe we can get them to see a better way to use classroom labels, even if it takes a revolution!

Recently read a post by Kristine Beeley on Playing to Learn that makes similar points for early years educators in England: “If it Doesn’t Move… Label It!”


  • Carla says:

    I’m wondering what age group you are thinking of as you write this. I agree with all points except moving items. I think that similar to routines materials should be placed logically with like items and moving them around would not support independence for preschool ages. Imagine if your bras or underwear were routinely moved and you couldn’t find them when you needed them? Children who have a purpose in mind as they go out aren’t thinking about learning to read…they just want to create or explore. I would rather focus on helping children with decoding words when I can work one on one, not when I have 15 children all leaving to use materials.

    • Karen Nemeth says:

      Hi, Carla. Thank you for your comments. I agree that we shouldn’t focus on turning every experience into a reading drill or drive children crazy moving things around just to teach them a lesson. But, on the other hand, preschool classrooms have been plastered with labels since my mom was a nursery school teacher in the 1950s and most of those labels are never noticed or read or used or changed. If I was writing this as a longer article I would definitely include your points. I think there’s value in opening up this discussion even if it means people share different perspectives.

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