How Visual Direction Cards Build Independence in Kindergarten


As kindergarten teachers, it can feel like constant questions and interruptions from students are just an inevitable part of working with 5- and 6-year-olds.  After all, they’re young! They’re still learning how to maneuver a classroom routine and complete learning tasks. In reality, it doesn’t have to be this way!  Your young learners can develop independence and become problem solvers, significantly reducing the need to ask follow-up questions with each direction you give them. Visual direction cards are the key to making this happen! 

Hurdles to Independence in Kindergarten

A kindergarten classroom is different than every other elementary grade level when it comes to fostering independence.  There are several challenges that can make it difficult for the kids in your class to work independently.

Reading Skills

First, most of the students in kindergarten aren’t reading yet.  You can’t rely on directions at the top of a worksheet or a written explanation of a centers activity to help students complete their work.

Multi-Step Directions

It is challenging for kindergarten students to remember directions that have multiple steps.  Most written assignments and learning activities have more than one step for students to complete.  


Kindergarten is a grade level with a significant range of abilities.  Due to this, some students will finish tasks well before their peers are finished!  However, they might not have the problem-solving skills to independently know what to do when that happens. 

Visual directions cards are a great way to overcome all of these hurdles!

What Are Visual Direction Cards?

Visual direction cards are visual supports that can be used to represent the different steps in an assignment or learning activity.  Each card contains a word and a simple picture that models that particular step. 

Several direction cards using the words first, next, then, and last.

These picture direction cards are then placed in a visible location so students can reference them as they complete the activity.

In this video, I share a bit more about the basics of visual direction cards.  I also provide tips for storing and displaying them in the classroom.

4 Ways to Use Visual Direction Cards in Kindergarten

There are many ways that visual direction cards can help your students become more independent.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Independent Work

We all know what it feels like to walk students through an assignment at carpet time and send them back to their seats, only to be greeted by a classroom full of follow-up questions. By adding picture direction cards to the mix, you can significantly decrease the number of students asking “What do I do, teacher?” 

As you describe the steps of the assignment to your class, you can add a visual reminder of each step to the board or pocket chart. Your students will be able to get right to work, giving you time to circulate and support students with the actual content of the assignment.  You’ll be amazed by how much more time you have to support students when you’re not answering constant questions about each step of the directions.


Picture direction cards can be a helpful addition to your centers rotations!  Even after describing what students will be doing at each station, many of them will be looking for a reminder by the time they get to the final rotation of the day. Picture direction cards can help with this! You can print visual direction cards in a smaller size to place at each center rotation. Just store the cards with the materials for the corresponding station so they’re ready to go each day!

This helpful support will become an essential part of the centers routine for your class.  Students will know exactly where to look for directions as soon as they sit down!  This will be a huge time saver for you during learning stations, especially if you use your literacy and math centers as a time to work with small groups.  You won’t have students constantly interrupting your instruction with questions about what to do.  You can easily redirect them to their visual direction cards.

Center directions with four task pictures

Partner Work

Do you ever pair up your students to work as partners? When this happens in kindergarten, there are often conflicting opinions about what needs to be done first, whether to use crayons or markers, if gluing should happen before coloring, and so on. Visual direction cards can help this go much more smoothly!  

When partners disagree about the directions, they won’t have to look for you to settle things!  Instead, the visual direction cards can be the neutral third party.  If students try to ask you to get involved, you can simply point to the direction cards on display and encourage them to work it out. This is a great way to encourage them to be more independent with problem-solving!

Direction cards in a pocket chart

Early Finishers

Another helpful way to way to use picture direction cards in kindergarten is to support early finishers.  “What do I do now?” can be one of the most repetitive questions we answer as kindergarten teachers.  As I mentioned earlier, there are many students who will finish activities well before their peers.  When you use visual direction cards, students can easily see what they should do when they finish their work. They can independently move on to the next task or learning activity.

Printable Picture Direction Cards

Would you like to help your students become more independent learners? I have created a set of picture direction cards that you can use in your classroom!  It contains 64 different direction cards for common instructions that you will use during independent work time, centers rotations, and more.  These cards come in two different formats that are perfect for displaying in pocket charts, on tables, or even for individual student use as needed.

If you would like to take a closer look at this resource, you can find it in the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop or on TPT.

Following directions - picture cards and visuals

Save These Tips for Using Visual Direction Cards

Be sure to add this pin to your favorite teaching board on Pinterest!  You’ll be able to quickly find this post the next time you’re looking for ways to help your students become more independent in the classroom!

How to use visual direction cards to build independence


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