Search form

Fountain Pen Makes a Comeback in Scotland



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
Social Studies
--Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

Why are students at one school learning to write using old-fashioned fountain pens? Is handwriting an important skill to learn, or not?

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with each of the statements below. You might poll students and record the number of students who agree and disagree with each statement. (Note: After reading this weeks news story, you might take the poll again to see if students opinions change.)

  • Handwriting is an important skill to learn.
  • People who write neatly are smarter than people who have sloppy handwriting.
  • Students should get more handwriting instruction in school than they get now.
  • People judge others by their handwriting.
  • I should work hard to improve my handwriting.

    News Words

    This week, we replaced the Word Box with some background information on fountain pens. You might want to introduce the following vocabulary before your students read the news story of the week:

  • Scotland -- a country, part of the United Kingdom (show Scotlands location on a world map)
  • fountain pen -- a pen that contains a reservoir of ink that automatically feeds ink to its writing tip (If this is your students first exposure, you might share with them one of these pictures of fountain pens.)
  • old-fashioned -- something that is characteristic of a past era (period in history)
  • cursive -- a type of handwriting that flows smoothly across the page; not printing

    Read the News

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

  • Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

  • Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.

  • Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

  • Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.
  • Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Fountain Pen Makes a Comeback in Scotland.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • Bryan Lewis, principal at the Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville Junior School in Edinburgh, Scotland, says using old-fashioned fountain pens has helped boost the academic performance of his 1,200 pupils. Out in the real world, he says, students still need to have proper handwriting skills. "The pens improve the quality of work because they force the children to take care, and better work improves self-esteem, Lewis told ABC News.
  • At his school, students begin to use fountain pens as young as age 7. By the time they reach age 9 (grade 5), they write mainly with fountain pens. Ten-year-old Cailean Gall told ABC that it was hard to learn to write with a fountain pen because he kept smudging, but now he finds it strange to use a pencil. He says he likes using the fountain pen because it makes him concentrate much more on his work.
  • Students at the school still do their math work in pencil.
  • Is cursive handwriting a dying art? In 2006, handwritten essays were introduced as part of the SAT college entrance exams. Essay-graders noticed that only 15 percent of students wrote their essays in cursive handwriting.
  • Many of todays students have not been taught to write cursive style; they struggle to read cursive too. Instead, they are taught keyboarding skills starting as young as kindergarten. In the upper grades, many students take notes on laptop computers.
  • Writing experts say that students who have weak handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter writing samples. Children who don't learn proper handwriting find it harder to write by hand, so they avoid it. Data shows that the better students are in penmanship, the more they write. And the more students write, the more they are able to improve as writers.
  • A 2003 survey of primary-grade teachers found that most now spend 10 minutes a day or less teaching handwriting. The goal is to produce legible handwriting instead of perfect handwriting, teachers said.
  • Researcher Steve Graham did an experiment with first-graders in Maryland. At the start of the experiment, the students could write 10 to 12 letters per minute. After nine weeks of handwriting lessons (three times a week for 15 minutes) the kids had doubled their writing speed, were writing more complex thoughts, and had better sentence construction skills.
  • Many years ago, writers used feathers or quills as writing tools. They dipped a sharp end of the quill into ink. Some noticed that a "reservoir of ink welled up inside the end of the sharpened quill, so they tried to create a manmade pen that would hold more ink and not require frequent dipping into a bottle of ink. People tried to create such an invention as early as 1702. In the 1880s an insurance salesman, upset after ruining a sales contract with a leaky pen, created a fountain pen much improved over its predecessors. That man, Lewis Waterman, added an air hole in the nib (point) and three grooves inside the feed mechanism. Waterman gave birth to the modern-day fountain pen!

  • Many teachers say they don't deduct points for bad handwriting in class, but Graham says that is not what the research tells him. When adults are given the same composition written in good handwriting and poor handwriting, they give lower grades if the text is less legible, he said.
  • While only 15 percent of students wrote their 2006 SAT essays in cursive, 85 percent of students who did use cursive had higher test scores than those who printed their essays.
  • When researchers recently discovered a poem, they were able to determine that the poem was written by Robert Frost because it was written in his handwriting. But what if Robert Frost had typed his poem on a computer? There would be no way to prove if the poem was his, the researchers noted.

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statements in it.

  • Handwriting is an important skill to learn.
  • People who write neatly are smarter that people who have sloppy handwriting. (Hopefully, discussion of this point will result in an understanding that neat handwriting might equate to a person who takes more care, but does not reflect "smartness. You might mention that many very smart people have poor handwriting.)
  • Students should get more handwriting instruction in school than they get now.
  • People judge others by their handwriting.
  • I should work hard to improve my handwriting.
    Did your students opinions change at all after reading the article?

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • In what country is the school that is written about in this article? (Scotland)
  • Why did principal Bryan Lewis introduce fountain pens at his school? (He thinks it is very important that students take care and write neatly.)
  • How is a fountain pen different from most pens used today? (Most pens are used and thrown away; a fountain pen can be refilled with ink many times.)
  • Why do some teachers say students do a better job of getting ideas on paper when they use cursive handwriting? (Accept reasoned responses, for example, students who write in cursive handwriting write faster than students who print.)
  • What is the tip of a fountain pen called? (the nib)
  • How did people write before the fountain pen was invented? (They wrote by dipping the sharpened end of a birds feather/quill into ink.)

    Think About the News

    Take this opportunity to let your students respond to the Think About the News Question on their printable news page. Students might use the think-pair-share strategy to discuss this question. If you use this strategy

  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about the importance of handwriting.

    Follow-Up Activities

    History. Handwriting has changed over time. Provide students with a copy of some old letter forms. (Alternate source.) Have them use the old style letter forms to write their names, a proverb, or a famous quote. Older students might find a challenge in trying to decipher some samples of old handwriting.

    Language arts. Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. This might be an ideal question to pose to students as an opinion/persuasive essay question. Students must decide how to answer the question and provide two or three strong supporting ideas to persuade you to their point of view. If you teach younger students, you might help them to organize their ideas:

  • Create a 2-column class chart. Label one column Handwriting is very important and label the other column Handwriting is not very important.
  • Have students share ideas on both sides of the debate. Write their ideas in the appropriate columns.
  • Let students draw ideas from the chart as they write their essays.

    Science. Now that students have some idea of the history behind the fountain pen, have them choose another object and explore its history. Have them share what they learn about the objects history with their classmates.


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.4Communication Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.5Communication Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.6Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.8Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.12Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.5 Science and Technology
    NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.5 Science and Technology
    NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.5 Science and Technology
    NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

    SOCIAL SCIENCES: World History
    GRADES 5 - 12
    NSS-WH.5-12.7 An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914
    NSS-WH.5-12.8 The 20th Century

    GRADES K - 12
    NT.K-12.2 Social, Ethical, and Human Issues
    NT.K-12.3 Technology Productivity Tools
    NT.K-12.4 Technology Communications Tools

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2007 Education World