Legible letter formation

To form letters legibly, a student must remember what the letters should look like, make a mental picture of the letters, and then send signals to his fingers to form the letters on paper.

Some students find it easier to print than to use cursive writing. Printing requires that only 26 letter formations be remembered, while in cursive writing, every word is different. For other students, cursive is preferable because of the flow of movement when forming cursive letters.

Whether in cursive or print, the process of writing makes many demands on a student's memory. When a student must remember ideas to write about, as well as spelling, punctuation, and capitalization rules, she may find it difficult to hold all of the required information in her mind (in active working memory) at once. If any necessary information is lost, or not available, she may have difficulty with graphomotor skills needed for letter formation and may write slowly, and/or form letters that are difficult to read.

Note: With all student writers, but especially the student who has difficulty with letter formation, it is very important to respect the student's feelings about his/her written work. Do not put work on display or have peers correct the work unless the student is comfortable with this type of public review.

Here are some strategies to develop and strengthen students' ability to form legible letters.

Helpful Hints

  • Help the student learn to be aware of the variable quality of his/her handwriting, and to recognize situations where s/he is having difficulty. Suggest that the student focus on writing consistently and carefully in all situations.  
  • Have students practice tracing shapes and letters. Gradually reduce the complete shape or letter to dots, so that the student can practice making the shapes or letters by connecting the dots.  
  • Have students practice forming similar letters, such as l, j, t, etc.  
  • Introduce creative writing activities where the student can have fun while practicing correct letter formation, for example: writing to a pen pal, creating an advertisement for a new toy or other product, designing a contest entry form, writing to request a famous athlete's autograph, etc.  
  • When assigning a handwritten project, give the student the choice of printing or using cursive writing, whichever is more comfortable. Many adults naturally use a combination of manuscript and cursive writing.  
  • Provide keyboards and word processing programs, teach keyboarding skills, utilize writing software.  
  • Be aware that some students with graphomotor difficulties may also have difficulty learning to type on a keyboard or typewriter. Guide the student through computer mastery gradually and without undue pressure. As a student is acquiring keyboarding skills, have him/her continue to practice handwriting.  
  • Recognize that the computer may become a "survival tool" for students with handwriting difficulties. However, although a computer may increase the amount and legibility of a student's work, by itself, it does not necessarily improve the content or quality of that work.