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 them to remember only 26 letter formations, while in cursive writing, each word is different. For other students, cursive is easier because of the flow of movement when forming letters.

The process of writing also makes many other demands on a student’s memory. For example, students need to remember how to form letters, what letters should look like, and/or how to move their finger muscles to make each letter. When students are also trying to remember ideas to write about, as well as spelling, punctuation, and capitalization rules, they may find it difficult to hold all of the required information in their minds (in active working memory) at once. If any necessary information is lost, or not available, students may have difficulty with graphomotor skills and may write slowly, and/or form letters that are difficult to read.

Note: With all student writers, but especially those who have 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.

Helpful Hints

  • Help the student learn to be aware of the variable quality of his/her handwriting, and to recognize situations where he/she 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.