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Nancy Bailey's Education Website: There’s Too Much Stuff on Classroom Walls!

Classroom walls for young children learning to read are often covered with words, letters, word sounds, symbols, vocabulary, and even speech therapy pronunciation mouths, which are creepy. For years, Word Walls have ruled.

Bare walls are also dull and uninviting, but Word Walls scream emergency. Children must learn fast, real fast, and it’s laid out in front of them, in their faces, all day long.

If teachers want to turn classrooms into warm, inviting areas where learning is highlighted and children feel at home, they might imagine what it’s like to look at those walls like students.

Do the walls inspire children? Do they show them something new, easy to understand, and appealing to think about?

So many letters and words on the wall could affect children with (or without) reading disabilities, neurodiverse learners, or children who need more development. Young children can quickly become bored or overstimulated by the amount of stuff on the walls.

We’ve been here before.

In 2014, Fisher et al. studied kindergartners in classes with visual stimuli they intentionally manipulated from more to less to see how children do.

Children were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.

They also found that children attended more to classmates in sparsely decorated classrooms, and the authors recommend optimizing classroom stimuli to help children focus.

Zazzi and Faragher (2018), concerned about students on the autistic spectrum, asked them what visual input they liked and disliked, determining that color palette, feature congestion, affordances, and spatial size mattered.

In 2018, McDowall and Budd determined that children with cerebral visual impairment experienced physical and mental fatigue and increased anxiety with too much classroom stimuli and that by decluttering the classroom, not only students but their teachers experienced a calming effect.

I have listed a few reasons why wordy stuff on the walls might confuse children, both when they observe the information alone and when the teacher directs them to follow their instructions during Word Wall lessons, especially since they may still need to develop these skills.

Attending Behavior

A child may have difficulty focusing on a visual object or print. They might be unable to locate visual objects or pictures when given directions. Students may zone out if there’s too much to look at. If they stare at these Word Walls all day, will the information become meaningless?

Ocular pursuit

Moving your head from left to right and keeping your eyes focused on reading a line of print in a book can be confusing for a young learner. Looking up at a board with lots of signs might be more difficult. Children may be unable to coordinate eye movements to follow the teacher and what’s on the wall.

See Pursuit eye movements in dyslexic children: evidence for immaturity of brain oculomotor structures.

Speed of Looking

Some children may take longer to comprehend an object or a picture visually or read a word, sentence, or paragraph. Even though they can process the information, they could fall behind and become frustrated because they require more time. They may need help keeping up with the teacher’s direction when using a Word Wall for a lesson.

Visual Discrimination

Children may not see differences or be able to match connected objects, pictures, words, or letters. Will the information blur or run together because there are no visual boundaries? There’s so much to look at, and the child may find it hard to zero in on any main points.

Visual Memory

When students see so much, they may have trouble remembering objects or details in pictures, letters, or words. They might understand the information a teacher presents in a lesson but forget it later.

Visual Motor Coordination

Think about copying what one sees amidst a sea of letters and words when eye-to-hand fine motor skills still need to be fully developed.

Visual Sequencing

Recalling a specific order of objects, pictures, or words may be difficult. Children may get letters mixed up in a word or be unable to remember specific visual patterns.


Creating classrooms that inspire children, showcase their work, and ensure manageable information is essential. Lessons might be better with a portable chart, board, or workbook that simplifies the information so that they observe smaller amounts of information.

Wouldn’t it also be better to decorate the classroom in non-threatening ways so that students can easily observe information that’s both interesting and educational? Educational games that students will be able to master or information and pictures highlighting a book that the class may be reading together come to mind.

It’s also important to provide children with vision screenings as they develop. They may not understand that they need glasses.

In general, ask how much stimuli children get throughout their lives, every day and all day, and see how to visually tone it down so they can better understand what they see in their world.


Fisher, A. V., Godwin, K. E., & Seltman, H. (2014). Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children: When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad. Psychological Science25(7), 1362–1370.

Zazzi, H., & Faragher, R. (2018). “Visual clutter” in the classroom: voices of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. International Journal of Developmental Disabilities64(3), 212–224.

McDowell, N., & Budd, J. (2018). The Perspectives of Teachers and Paraeducators on the Relationship between Classroom Clutter and Learning Experiences for Students with Cerebral Visual Impairment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness112(3), 248–260.


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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authore...