Tips for Teaching Handwriting

Tip 1: Teach Lowercase Letters First

Lowercase letters comprise more than 90% of all that we read and write. Uppercase or capital letters are only used at the beginning of sentences and with proper nouns. Teaching lowercase letters first provides students with the most vital information they need to be successful in learning to read and write. Once students have mastered the lowercase letters, they should be taught how to write the capital letters and how to use them properly.

Once students have mastered the lowercase letters, they should be taught how to write the capital letters as well as their proper usage. Introduce the phonograms by showing the lowercase phonograms in book-face and telling students the sound(s) said by the phonogram. (The Basic Phonogram Flash Cards are all printed using a standard book-face font.) Then introduce how to write the phonogram and show students how it appears when handwritten.

Tip 2: Teach Handwriting from the Beginning

As soon as students are shown the phonogram in bookface, they should be taught how to write the phonogram, preferably in cursive.

One of the greatest misconceptions about teaching reading is that students should not be taught to write until they have learned to read. This argument is based upon two misunderstandings about writing. First, educators often fail to recognize that writing is the natural kinesthetic experience of the phonogram. Feeling how the letter is shaped is a necessary component to mastering the shape. This is especially true for kinesthetic learners.

Second, many educators argue that it is best to separate the teaching of writing from reading because many young children do not have well-developed fine-motor skills. Writing, though, is best taught to all students beginning with large-motor movements. Students should be taught how to form the letters using movements that originate from the elbow, not the fingers. Movements from the elbow are simpler to control. When the large-motor patterns are mastered, the transition to fine-motor skill will be much easier. Many students who struggle with handwriting do not understand how the letters are shaped; this is partly due to the fact that they have not developed the muscle memory for the sequence of strokes necessary for writing.

Tip 3: Use All the Learning Modes

When teaching a student how to write, always use all four learning modalities: seeing, hearing, doing, and speaking. Show the student how to form the letter (seeing) while providing explicit directions orally (hearing). Then ask the student to repeat the action (doing) while repeating the directions aloud (speaking).

Tip 4: Begin with Large-Motor Movements

Teach letter formation using large-motor movements originating from the elbow. The motions may be demonstrated on a chart with the index finger. The students may then practice the sequence of movements in salt boxes, on the white board, with chalk, or in the air. Textured letters such as sandpaper letters are also useful as they engage the student's large-motor memory with a high-sensory experience.

Tip 5: Emphasize the Rhythm of Handwriting

Fluent handwriting is rhythmic with pauses only at the natural stopping or reversal points in the letters. Otherwise, the pencil should continue in a steady motion. When teaching handwriting, it is important to provide the students with rhythmic directions that emphasize the natural rhythm of writing. The full explicit directions in the Rhythm of Handwriting program provide students with clear and explicit directions on how to form each letter. Bold key words provide abbreviated directions which accent the natural rhythm of each letter.

Tip 6: Do Not Trace

The students should not be taught how to write through tracing with pencil and paper. This sort of tracing hinders the development of a rhythmic, fluent stroke. When writing a lowercase "i" in cursive, the pencil begins on the baseline, swings up to the midline, stops, then slides down to the baseline and either stops or continues smoothly into the next letter. There are only one or two stopping points. When a student traces, he treats the activity like a connect-the-dot puzzle. The pencil moves in jerky stops to each of the dashes, stopping and starting many times. In this manner, tracing does not aid in developing the fluid muscle memory necessary for writing.

Tip 7: Do Not Leave Students Alone to Practice

Until students have mastered letter formation, they should not be left alone to practice. Careful teaching and guidance from the beginning will prevent bad habits from forming. If teachers invest time in the beginning to ensure that each student has a clear understanding of how to form each letter and develops the correct muscle memory for each letter, huge amounts of wasted time and pain will be avoided in the future not only in writing but in reading as well. This is because handwriting instruction is formative to reading as well as to spelling.

Tip 8: Save Copywork for Students Who Can Read at a Second Grade Level and Above

Students should not be asked to copy phonograms alone until they have mastered how to form the letters and are able to do so quickly and with ease. Many students who struggle with visual confusion will begin to write letters backwards when left alone too soon. This results not only in confused handwriting, but also increases confusion in reading.

The students should not be asked to copy words, sentences, or paragraphs until they are reading at a second grade level. When asked to do so sooner, the task is akin to art and void of the valuable language learning that true copywork provides.

Tip 9: How to Transition from Large-Motor Movements to Paper and Pencil

The timing for transitioning to pencil and paper is dependent upon the age, development, and prior experiences of the student. Many older students will find great success in learning to write a letter with large-motor skill using the handwriting chart, then proceeding to trace the enlarged letter in their workbook with their index finger to emphasize the motions, then immediately writing the letter with a pencil.

Other students who struggle with fine-motor skill development or who are younger benefit from learning all the letters with large-motor skill first and practicing them using only large-motor skill activities for 1-4 weeks. Encourage the students to form large letters using motion that originates in their elbow. Once the students have mastered forming the single-letter phonograms using large-motor skill with their index finger on the Handwriting Chart, they may transition to writing the letters on a white board, chalkboard, salt box, or other texture writing. The students may also practice writing the letters with their index fingers, using the large letters provided in the student workbook.

For the students with poorly developed fine-motor skills, spelling lists may even be taught using large-motor skill. Rather than using the workbooks provided with the Logic of English® curriculum, have the students write their exercises on a whiteboard or chalkboard.

Since the brain does not distinguish between large- and fine-motor muscle memory, the students will easily transfer the motions learned using large-motor movement to the fine-motor work of writing with a pencil and paper. If a student struggles with fine-motor development, writing exercises may be done in large-motor skill using a whiteboard or chalkboard until his fine-motor development is sufficient for writing.

When the movements are easy, provide each student with a pencil. Instruct them how to hold the pencil by gripping it with the thumb and first finger while resting it gently on the middle finger. If a student struggles to hold the pencil correctly, provide him with a pencil grip.

Demonstrate to the students how to place the paper at an angle and how the arm naturally sweeps in the direction of writing. Ask the students to make curved sweeping lines along the paper, using motions from their elbow. Position the paper so these lines most naturally follow the lines on the paper.

Beginning with the Swing Letters, say the sounds of a phonogram and ask the students to write it on the page. If needed, review the relationship of each phonogram to the midline, baseline, and top line.

Beginner students of handwriting may need various sizes of lined paper. Use the smallest paper that is comfortable for the student. When practicing writing with fine-motor skills, it is important that the students use the muscles in their hands. Since their hands are small, smaller lines are usually the most comfortable and will produce the best results in handwriting. Notice if you try to stretch your hand to form unnaturally large letters, your writing will not be as neat as when writing in a size that better fits your hand. ( has paper with a variety of line sizes available for free download.)

When the students begin to write letters on paper, encourage them to write the letter until they can write it comfortably. Then ask the student to pick out the letter on the page that he thinks is most neatly written and put a star by it. Have the student explain why he believes that letter is written the best. Then, as the teacher, choose the letter that you think is best and explain why.

Another great way to practice handwriting is Blind Writing. Direct the students to close their eyes and write the letter five to ten times without looking. By removing the visual cues, the student is forced to rely on muscle memory. Then have the students look at the letters they have written and evaluate their shape.