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Working with Emergent Writers: Labeling Ideas and Tips

write and wipe sleeves, address labels, magazines--Literacy Center

Kindergartners begin school with a wide range of literacy backgrounds. This can make it difficult to know where to start with writing. Some children are just learning what a letter is; others are already recognizing and writing simple words. Labeling is a great writing activity that reaches all students and provides valuable experience with language and letter/sound relationships. (This post contains an Amazon affiliate link for TYH Supplies Dry Erase Pockets.)

Labeling their pictures is a natural way for emerging writers to begin using print. Labeling allows students to integrate many literacy skills (print concepts, phonics, letter formation) while cementing their understanding of print as a representation of spoken words. In addition, students at varied stages of spelling development can feel successful when labeling their drawings.

Labeling Activities

Here are some classroom activities to help you teach and reinforce the practice of labeling.

Have students draw pictures of themselves and label with their names. Show them how to draw an arrow (or just a line) to indicate that the name is a label for the person in the picture. If you want to make the idea of labeling more concrete, try giving each student one blank address label to stick onto their self-portrait paper. Have them write their name on the label and draw a line or arrow to their picture. Extend this name-labeling activity to include pictures of families, pets, and friends.

Label the Classroom
Pre-make labels for the items in your classroom that the students see and interact with daily (computer, flag, window, whiteboard, door, etc.). Be sure to make the print large enough to be seen from around the rom as the students will reference these labels throughout the year. As a group, work on reading and placing the labels.

Procedures Anchor Charts
Make anchor charts using shared writing and drawing. When discussing playground rules, have students brainstorm pieces of playground equipment to draw on the chart. Model drawing these pieces. (If you don't think you're good at drawing, do it anyway. What a great way to model perseverance to your students!) Have the students help label the drawing. Then work together to compose a list of playground rules or procedures. This activity can be repeated for the cafeteria, media center, and other parts of the school.

Labeling with Technology
If you have a Smart Board or some other type of interactive board (or even just a projector for your computer), try displaying pictures for your children to label. You can find pictures on the internet that reflect your current theme or students' interests. Have students identify the items in the picture and call on volunteers to come up and label them. You can also do this with photographs of your students that you've taken while they play or work. This can be a great springboard to narrative writing.

Labeling Center
Use pictures from old magazines or calendars for a labeling center. Stick blank address labels onto the pictures in places where a label would be appropriate and draw arrows. Then put these pictures (along with lined paper if desired) into write and wipe pockets to use with dry erase markers. You can also use pictures printed from the internet (sites like and have a lot of options). If you don't have dry erase pockets, you can use simple sheet protectors or can laminate the pictures.

dry erase pockets, labeling picturesdry erase pocket, labeling picture, literacy center

Tips for Working with Emergent Writers

Accept your students where they are.
Many children will be very reluctant to take risks in writing if they think their teacher expects correct spelling. Encourage children to use the knowledge of letters and sounds that they already have and acknowledge even small efforts. Children who are overly concerned about spelling will be prone to copying words and/or using the simplest words they can in order to achieve perfection. Create a safe writing environment where children know their best efforts are enough. 

Don't give in to the "How do you spell?" questions!
For children who are afraid to make mistakes, telling them how to spell a word sends the message that you want them to spell conventionally. Instead, encourage them to use the tools they have (sound knowledge, environmental print, word walls) and praise their effort.

Ask for support from parents and family members.
Explain to parents that learning to write is much like learning to talk. Just as we don’t expect perfection from our babies when they babble and manage their first few words, we should greet attempts at writing with excitement and encouragement.

Use student work as a model. 
If you have a document camera and a projector, it is easy and motivating to show the class a quick example of the skill you’re working on. “Look! Veronica has labeled the picture of her sister with a T because her sister’s name is Teresa and that begins with the /t/ sound!” If you don't have a document camera, you can highlight student work during carpet time. Be sure to focus on effort and growth when using students as a model, rather than on perfection and mastery. This builds confidence and pride!

Most of all, show excitement for writing! Your enthusiasm will be contagious and, before you know it, you will have a room full of eager authors!

For more literacy center ideas, check out this blog post:
How to Create Literacy Centers in Kindergarten: 7 Inexpensive, Open-Ended, Ongoing Center Ideas

Fine Motor Skills Task Box Freebie!

Free Fine Motor Skills Task Box Activity

If you're looking for ways to integrate fine motor activities into your school day, I've got something for you! As I discussed in this earlier post (and again here), making time for activities that strengthen fine motor skills is so important in any early childhood classroom. As academics and technology have been pushed down into earlier grades, some of the play activities that naturally develop motor skills have been displaced. Teachers must be very purposeful in their planning to ensure that they are educating the whole child in a balanced and age-appropriate way. With this in mind, I designed Fine Motor Skills Task Boxes (see them here or read more about them here) that can be used by young children independently throughout the year. These boxes allow children to engage in fun, hands-on activities while strengthening their little fingers and practicing age-appropriate skills.

If you'd like to try a fine motor task for free, keep reading!

Fine Motor Skills Bins

My Fine Motor Task Skills Task Boxes are self-contained activities that fit into pencil boxes. Each activity was designed to use materials that teachers tend to have on hand. Because these activities are simple and include picture directions, they are perfect for students to work on independently. This makes them ideal activities for morning work or early finishers. Many children even pick these activities during free choice times!

In my TPT store, you can find a variety of fine motor sets, but I have just created one new activity that you can have for free when you subscribe to my email list. (I will use your email address to send you occasional newsletters filled with ideas and resources. I will never sell or give your address to anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time.) Scroll to the bottom to sign up right away, or keep reading to see what you'll get.

Playdough Creations Fine Motor Task Box

Free Playdough Task Cards and Labels

This task box activity includes a box label, a picture instructions card, and 16 playdough task cards. The task cards are numbered and can be attached with a binder ring. The first cards have students practice making simple shapes with playdough (a ball, a snake, a disk...) and subsequent cards have them use those shapes to make more complicated models. These cards help children build their confidence, which allows their creativity to really flow!

Fine Motor Skills Task Box Play-Doh Cards

To put the box together, simply print the label, instruction card, and task cards onto cardstock, laminate them, and cut them out. Then, punch a hole in each task card and connect them (in order) with a binder ring. Attach the label to the top of a pencil box and the instruction card to the inside of the lid. You can use tape or hot glue to attach these, or, if you think you might like to switch out the activity later in the year, Velcro is a great option. Put the task cards and a small container of playdough into the box and you're ready to go!

Fine Motor Skills Task Box Playdough Freebie

Fine Motor Skills Task Box Playdough Freebie

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