Why Are Labels Important?

Labels are an important necessity in all ECE and primary grade classrooms.  They are as important as toys and manipulatives.  Labels can make life easier; clean up is quicker, students don’t need to ask where toys are located, and we gain a few minutes of our day back.

Labels, whether a visual or words, are a great way to give students practice for math and literature objectives.  Labels are a precursor to reading in the primary classroom.  No matter what the grade, students who are able to match a picture to a toy will eventually begin to read labels on their own.

Labeling is especially important because labels provide visual cues to the location of items throughout your classroom.  While most students are able to ask about the location of an item, some students might need additional help.  Having visual cues give students who are younger, non-verbal, or lack the confidence, the opportunity to be independent and move comfortably and safely through your room.

Suggestions and Best Practice Guidelines

  • All labels should include a picture or visual. 
  • If you teach in a bilingual or ESL environment labels should be in both languages.  English should be one color and the other language should be in a different color.
  • Don’t be wordy- each label should only include one word.  For example use the term “Blocks” instead of “Multicolored Foam Blocks”.
  • While toys are known by different names don’t be afraid to call them whatever your students call them.  Not Magna tiles but tiles?  Label them that way.  Also remember that Spanish is regional (as are some of the other romantic languages- French, Portuguese, etc.) so fee free to label items in those languages by whatever name your kids use.  Labels are easily updated so just try things out and see what works best for your kids or change them year to year.
  • Label everything in both words and pictures!  No item is too small or too unimportant.  As a professor of mine advised, “liter the environment with print’.  Students should be able to read the pictures and begin to make connections to the words of all items in your classroom. 

Below you will find a “How To” guide to labeling your classroom.  I promise, this will make your day a little less stressful and hopefully it will give you some extra time to work with students.   


By this point you have figured out where you are placing your centers.  If you haven’t, or you need some extra help setting up your classroom, check out our classroom layout blog.  It includes helpful information on how to set up your room.  After you’ve set up your #BestRoomEver it is time to begin labeling.

Begin by cleaning every piece of furniture in your center.  The cleaning is twofold- one, it’s clean (yeah!) and two, it will help you tape down the labels easily.  It drives me insane when I tape something down and later notice dust or hair stuck in the label.  * Angry face emoji*

Once everything is out (and organized) set up the center in a way that is the most functional for your students.  Take into account their age, the students favorite toys, the distance between items that go together (scissors and glue).  If your students are younger (e.g. smaller) make sure that the items they use most are easily accessible, otherwise, you’re right back to helping students locate items.


Assess the problems in your center.  What is always hard to find?  What is hard to put away?  What do students use the most?  Once you  have answered these questions take inventory of what you have in the center.  What items need to be permanent and what can be brought out unit by unit?  Take inventory of items so that you know exactly what you have or what you might need.  This can be very helpful throughout the year.


Take pictures of everything!  There is nothing to small or unimportant- everything can, and should be, labeled.  You can use magazine pictures or draw your own.  I find visual labels have a more uniform look with pictures I take.  Plus, who has time to draw pictures of the thousands of items in a classroom?


Make your written labels!  If you teach in a monolingual classroom create the labels of the items in each center in language one (for me, it’s English).  If you teach in a bilingual or ESL classroom create labels in both languages.  English labels should in one color and the second language should be in a different color.  Be consistent from center to center- all English labels should be the same color at each center (as should be your second language).

Don’t go between colors because it will confuse students who are learning to read/write in their perspective languages.  Remember one way of reading is reading pictures and another is reading words.  Students who begin to read words will look at the first letter and it will be easier if they know to always look at the black letters for language one and blue/red/etc. letters for language two.  Also, don’t change the sequence.  Whatever the order, languages should follow the same order center to center.


Place the label on every picture and then tape the picture/label combo into place.  I use thick moving tape because it it’s stronger than other tape.  I have moved classrooms three times at my current school and the classroom I labeled in 2011 still has all of the original labels I made.


Once all labels have been printed, organized, and taped put the manipulative or toys on top of their new label.  These labels are meant to show students where items go.  If something goes missing students know what to look for.


Role Model!  After labeling all the centers it is time to roll out the center expectations to students.  I always tell my kiddies, “everything has a place and everything in it’s place”.  An oldie but a goodie when it comes to clean up expectations in my classroom.  After modeling the clean up process have students practice putting toys away on their own.


Enjoy the extra time you have by doing something wild.  Like working an additional intervention group or taking that bathroom break you know you really need.  Go on with your bad self, you deserve it!


If you would like to label you entire classroom but don’t have the time to sit and take pictures use our convenient new labels!  This mega pack contains over 200 visual labels for your preschool or kindergarten class! Labels are organized by classroom center for easy printing. Labels include the word and picture of the item. This detailed set includes labels for everything in your classroom.  The best part? ¡Tenemos las etiquetas en Español!  Get your labels here.

Do you have any ideas that make labeling easier?  Have a question about labeling specific items? Keep the conversation going below!

Cinthya Quintana
Cinthya Quintana

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