Teaching Independence In The Classroom: Visual Labeling

July 5, 2012


We all require visual aids.  There aren’t many of us that cannot survive without a calender, diary, address book or notebook. These are all visual aids that help us in our day-to-day lives.  Kids on the autism spectrum, however, are less able to function without visual aids and there are many reasons for this.

Yesterday, I blogged about a type of visual aid called “visual labeling” and how it can be used to teach a child with special needs to become more independent at home.  Today I want to blog about how to use visual labeling to create a setting that is structured enough for learners to be independent in most aspects of the Sunday School classroom,  In order to do this it is very important to apply visual labels to as many objects in the room as possible.

When labeling objects in the classroom, you may want to use words only, picture symbols, or an actual photo of the items.  It all depends on the needs of your learners.  In our Special Friends Ministry classroom at First Baptist Orlando we have a wide variety of needs.  For this reason I prefer to use actual photos of the items.  The use of actual photos is important because early learners will more readily recognize photos of actual items quicker than they will drawings/boardmaker icons.

Another reason to use actual photos is the developmental progression of visual discrimination.  When children start learning that 2d pictures are representations of 3d objects, they learn quicker when the 2d picture most closely resembles the 3d object.  What better way to accomplish this than with the use of actual photo?!

I like to combine both photo AND word together.  For my learners who can read, this allows them to use their reading skills.  For my learners who cannot read, they can look at the photo.  When the photo and the word are coupled together it also provides a great opportunity to teach the nonreader a new sight word!

One of the best ways to label that creates an environment where the learners can not only find the materials but also put them away is shown in this picture.  Note that I place the visual label (photo and word) on the actual bin where they items are located.  In addition I like to use transparent bins because this supports early learners in making the connection between the photo and the items in the bin.  This is more easily accomplished when the bin is transparent.  (Click here for a picture).

Students with special needs come in all shapes and sizes.  Visual labeling is one of the easiest ways to provide positive support in your special needs ministry classroom.  Children with autism and other special needs find it less stressful and easier to participate efficiently and function independently in children’s ministry activities when visual labels are added to the environment.

You can find a short and informative video on visual labeling here.

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Michael Woods, M.A. BCaBA CPI


About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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2 Comments on “Teaching Independence In The Classroom: Visual Labeling”

  1. MK @ Teach Sunday School Says:

    One of the biggest challenges I experience while teaching younger kids is getting them to be independent—so you can imagine how excited I was to see this blog post. I love the idea of visual labeling and am getting some ready to print out right now! Thank you for the push I needed to get into labeling things visually rather than with words.


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