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From Handwriting Review to Mastery

3 ways to engage your students and foster success
By Emily Knapton, OTR/L

  You’re about to start another year of school with a new group of students. They’ve all been away on summer break and haven’t had much opportunity to write. Some may have lost their confidence or forgotten some important handwriting skills. Chances are, these students will groan at the sight of paper and pencil, or worse yet, fall behind academically because they are not comfortable expressing themselves on paper.

Regardless of the challenges they face, you have to prepare them all for their assignments and the rigors of testing throughout the year. The good news is that you can help them improve their writing skills and develop good learning habits in three easy steps.

1. Review in 10

Start by reviewing the basics to see how much students remember or what they may still need to learn. You don’t need to carve out too much time for this. Ten minutes a day is all you need. Use diverse, targeted multisensory activities to engage students and get them ready to learn.

For beginners (kindergarten), review pencil grip, letter memory, orientation, start, and sequence. Don’t forget to model the correct way to form the letters in their names. These activities will be a big help*:

Wet-Dry-Try
Print Activity

Wet-Dry-Try
Cursive Activity

Letter and Number
Formation Charts

For experienced writers (grades one and two), begin by reviewing letter memory, orientation, and formation (start and sequence). Don’t forget to model good spacing, letter size, and placement of letters on the line. In addition to writing exercises, you can do the following multisensory activities*:

For older students (grades three through five), review letter memory, letter formations, and cursive connections*:

  • Mystery Word Games with Magic C
  • Wet-Dry-Try on the Blackboard with Double Lines
  • Tow Truck activity
  • Connection Inspection
  • Silly Spelling Tests
  • Translating Print to Cursive

These activities make review fun and motivating, so students look forward to writing practice each day. You’ll find that your class will soon be up to speed and ready for more.

2. Check It Out

 Self-editing is an often overlooked, but extremely important learning skill. When students have the tools and framework for checking their own work, they do better on all their assignments.

Refer to the “What You Will Teach and How They Will Check,” section of the Handwriting Without Tears teacher’s guide for your grade level, and teach students to check their letter, word, and sentence skills.

Show them start and formation, size and spacing, punctuation, and more. When you check their work, tell them what they did right, and help them correct any mistakes. You can help them by posting letter, word, and sentence check reminders in the classroom.

After you have done this a few times, students will be able to check their own work. With enough practice, self-checking will become an automatic habit that will serve them well. Once they become accustomed to these expectations, you can help them transfer this skill to all of their work by showing them how to “Spot Good Writing.” Download these reproducible notes and have children attach them to any handwritten assignment they turn in. This will allow you to set handwriting expectations that span the entire writing process.

3. Do It Again

Some children will need additional practice to bring them up to speed. An extra five minutes of focused handwriting practice a day can make a big difference. Consider giving mini handwriting lessons to the parents of struggling students. For instance, if a child is struggling with Magic C letters, have the parent practice forming a, d, and g with their child each night for just 5 minutes. Break it down for parents and give them a letter group each week to focus on. Because the practice is brief and focused, children won’t be bored or overwhelmed. Writing will become a comfortable and routine part of their day.

Daily practice is the best way to develop writing as a natural, fluid skill. This allows students to focus on content and learning rather than on the mechanics of writing.

With just 15 minutes of daily handwriting instruction, you’ll find that you actually need less time for one-on-one instruction and remediation. Students’ academic performance will improve, and you’ll have more time to meet all your teaching goals. So sharpen those pencils and take three steps to a more productive, successful learning environment.

* Many of the cited exercises can be found in your Handwriting Without Tears teacher’s guide.