How to Promote Student Independence with Visuals


During my time as a kindergarten teacher, I have seen first-hand the impact that student independence can have on behavior and classroom management. When students are able to navigate the school day with less need for adult reminders, it changes the tone of the entire school day. The secret to making this happen? Using visual supports!

How to Promote Student Independence with Visuals

The Importance of Building Student Independence

Building student independence is a very important part of behavior management in kindergarten. (In fact, it's an entire module of the Kindergarten Behavior Blueprint course!) When students need less adult support and fewer reminders, they are less likely to demonstrate negative behaviors. Independent learners are more likely to stay engaged in their work, which means less time spent wandering around the classroom or bothering their peers. You can also incorporate more learning opportunities into your daily routine, like centers, when you can trust your students to work independently.

5 Ways to Promote Student Independence with Visuals

As great as it sounds to have a room full of kindergarten students who can work independently, it takes time and practice! Many of the five- and six-year-olds in your class haven’t even been in a traditional classroom before. This is where visuals come in handy; you can use visual supports to promote student independence in many different ways.

1. Giving Instructions

First, you can use visuals to help give instructions to your students. Kindergarten students are still developing their language processing skills, so multi-step directions can be hard for them to remember. We can’t expect students to independently follow instructions if they can’t even remember them! This is true for ALL children in your classroom, but especially for English language learners and students with disabilities. 

Visual directions card in a pocket chart

These picture direction cards are a great way to bridge this gap for students. You can still give multi-step verbal directions, but students can rely on the visual cards to help them remember the steps. This promotes student independence because they don’t have to rely on you to tell them what to do next. They can take responsibility for their learning as they work their way through the steps according to the visual directions.

2. Setting Expectations 

Students can’t become independent learners if they don’t know what’s expected of them. They need to know what independent learning is supposed to look like! Visuals can help you communicate expectations to your students for many different situations throughout the school day.

Voice level visual cards

For example, you can use a voice level chart to set the expectation for how students will interact with others during independent work time. Do they need to have their voices off completely or can they use a whisper voice? When students have a clear expectation for how they need to behave, they are more likely to rise to the occasion.

If you’d like more examples for how I set expectations using visuals, you can check out this video.

3. Providing Choices

A quality of independent learners is that they are able to make positive choices that support their learning. Visuals can help students make these choices by offering a range of options.

You can offer students choices for how to sit at the carpet. Once students have learned about the different options, they are able to decide which option works best for them. This bit of autonomy goes a long way in encouraging young students to become more independent in the classroom.

Five small posters with children demonstrated sitting positions

You can use visuals to keep these seating options top-of-mind when students are at carpet time. When you have a student who is having trouble sitting appropriately, you can point to the visuals as a quick reminder to make a positive choice. Visuals make this redirection easier and less disruptive to the lesson. Plus, they continue to encourage students to make their own choices.

4. Establishing Routines

One of the most important factors in promoting student independence in the classroom is to establish strong routines. Kindergarten students thrive on predictability! They are much more likely to navigate a classroom routine independently when it is something they have done the same way over and over again. Visuals can support students as they grow accustomed to the different routines in your classroom.

Step by step morning instructions with actual photos

For example, you could have a visual support with pictures of each step of the morning routine. This helps your students remember all of the things they need to take care of when they arrive in the classroom first thing in the morning. They are able to independently go about the morning routine, which gives them something to focus on from the moment they walk in the door. This one visual can go a long way in setting the tone for your day!

5. Supporting Students Through Change

Visuals are also very helpful when the schedule has to change. This can be very difficult for young kindergarteners who are learning to be more independent. When part of the routine is different, young students can revert back to relying on the teacher to coach them through the whole day. 

A picture schedule in a blue pocket chart on a bulletin board

Visuals can encourage students to continue to be independent learners even when the routine is different. A whole-class picture schedule is perfect for this! Students can see which parts of the routine are different and which are the same. They won’t need to rely on the teacher to remind them of the activities all day long.

Printable Bundle of Classroom Visuals

Would you like to use more visuals in your classroom to support student independence? I’ve put together a bundle that will save you a lot of prep time! It includes all of the visuals supports that I’ve mentioned in this post (and more) to help your students become more independent learners. 

If you’d like to take a closer look at everything included in this bundle, just head over to the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop or to my TPT store

Classroom Visuals - Bundle of Picture Supports

Save These Tips for Building Student Independence

Be sure to save this post if you’d like to come back to it later! Just add the pin below to your favorite teaching board on Pinterest. You’ll be able to quickly find these tips and resources when you’re looking for ways to help your students become more independent learners.

How to Promote Student Independence with Visuals


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