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How to Teach Handwriting


Make handwriting instruction part of every school day. Included: Resources for handwriting programs, lessons, worksheets, and more.


Do you think good handwriting is a skill of the past, made obsolete by the computer keyboard? Think again! According to Kate Gladstone, handwriting repairwoman and national director of the World Handwriting Contest, handwriting instruction might be neglected in today's classrooms, but it's hardly unnecessary. Each year in the United States, says Gladstone:

  • the health of at least 1 in 10 Americans is endangered by the poor handwriting of their physicians.
  • up to $95,000,000 in tax refunds are not delivered because of unreadable tax-forms.
  • $200,000,000 in time and money is lost because poor handwriting results in such problems as confused and inefficient employees, phone calls made to wrong or non-existent numbers, and letters and packages delivered to incorrect addresses -- or not delivered at all.

And the repercussions of poor handwriting aren't limited to the workplace; they begin in the classroom. According to Gladstone, repeated research has shown that even when teachers are told not to take off points for bad handwriting, poor handwriting results in lower grades -- as much as a full letter grade lower -- for similar or identical work.

What are teachers doing to remedy the poor handwriting of those who suffer from their largely unconscious prejudice? Apparently, not much. Classroom handwriting instruction averages around 5-10 minutes a week, says Gladstone, with almost no instruction at all provided beyond third grade.

That figure isn't surprising, however, when you consider that few teacher education programs in the United States today address handwriting instruction. As a result, according to Steve Graham, a professor of special education at the University of Maryland, about three-quarters of the elementary school teachers he surveyed believed they weren't adequately prepared to teach handwriting. If you're one of those teachers, perhaps the following information can help!


Effective handwriting instruction, experts say, should focus on the three components of handwriting; letter formation (form and slant), size, and spacing. When teaching handwriting, teachers should focus on one component at a time -- first, letter formation; then, size; and then, spacing.

The form and slant of specific letters will depend on the style of handwriting being taught. Whatever style you're teaching, however, children first must learn the starting and stopping point of each letter. That can be accomplished by having children trace the letters with their index fingers before they begin writing. The following resources illustrate proper letter formation for some of the most popular handwriting styles:

Posture and paper position also are important to ensure correct letter formation and slant. Students should sit upright with both feet flat on the floor, placing the paper at a 45 degree angle toward the writing-arm side of the body and tilting it to conform to the position of the writing arm's forearm. See Handwriting for an illustration of proper posture and paper placement.

Letter size -- more accurately, letter proportion -- is fairly consistent across handwriting styles. Similarly-shaped letters should be the same height. For example, small letters (a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z) should be half the size of ascenders (b, d, h, k, l, t) and descenders (g, j, p, q, y). Capital letters should be about the same height as ascenders. Proper proportion can be taught using handwriting paper with a dotted middle line. Free handwriting paper and handwriting worksheets for a variety of grade and skill levels can be found at:

Proper spacing includes both spacing between letters and spacing between words. The space between each letter in a word should be the same. The space between each word also should be consistent. Students can use their pinkies to measure the correct distance between words.

Proper grip of the pen or pencil is another important aspect of good handwriting. Instruct students to hold the pen or pencil close to the writing tip with the thumb and index fingers. The middle finger should be curved under the writing utensil, with the utensil resting lightly on the area between the tip and first knuckle. The fourth finger and pinky should be curved in toward the palm. See Handwriting for writing tips and an illustration of proper pencil grip.


Are you in the market for a formal handwriting program? If so, experts recommend that you look for a program that provides teacher explanation and demonstration, opportunities for rewriting reinforcement and verbalization of the rules of letter formation, and self-assessment tools. Some of the most popular programs include:

Whichever program you choose, make sure you use it. Experts say that handwriting practice should be part of every school day.


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Updated 09/26/2018