(There is a Method to My Madness)
Years ago I taught at a small private school that had all the teachers from K-7 teaching the same handwriting and spelling program. When I arrived I thought it was nuts. When I left, I thought it was brilliant. I still teach handwriting they way they showed me, with a few modifications.
Why Letter of the Week Doesn’t Always Work
If you are teaching “letter of the week” for phonics and printing, can I please encourage you to re-consider? Teaching letters in isolation and without relationships does not help any child (or any person new to the English Language) learn how to remember or manipulate the letter. Much like math, language and handwriting is about relationships. Those squiggles in the early years are communicating to you. Sometimes we need to take the time to learn our students’ language before we seek to teach them our language.
So How Do You Teach Handwriting?
When teaching handwriting, letters need to be grouped. Consider where we start with printing a letter. The proper place to start printing the letter “a” is at two o’clock. The letter “a” is a letter “c” closed with a straight stick. Hence, before you teach the letter “a”, start with the letter “c”. Look for all the letters that start with the letter “c” and teach them at the same time (not all in one day, but perhaps over two weeks). What letters to you come up with? There’s “c”, “o”, “a”, “d”, “g”, “q”. Some would add “e”; it doesn’t start with the “c” but ends with a “c”. Some educators would also remove the “tail” letters (for now) as tail letters can be difficult to shape based on fine motor skills.
When you teach handwriting letters in groups, you are able to teach the relationships of letters, how they are the same, the same starting points, etc. Most students will remember starting places as you’ve developed patterns of printing.
To Trace or Not To Trace
Wow, is this a hot topic! Can I sit on the fence and watch this argument unravel? I use tracing at the beginning and then stop. I do not give tracing for the sake of “busy work” because most often it will be done incorrectly and I’ve missed the opportunity to see if my students can control their pencil. My purpose is to teach formation. Also, when I use them, I group them according to their starting points. However, if a child struggles with fine motor skills, I would strongly recommend against giving tracing papers to that child. This will be painful for their little hands. If you would like to read further regarding tracing, Dr. Jacobs gives good reasons against tracing.
The Relationship of Letters and Words
Teaching Language Arts should be all encompassing. Whether it is reading, phonics, phonemic awareness, spelling, vocabulary, oral language or handwriting, everything should mesh together. Though it takes more thoughtful planning, all of the components of Language Arts should be taught in a way that children make the connections and see patterns to each of them. How does handwriting relate to phonemic awareness. How does reading relate to creative writing? When teaching handwriting, create words for children to practice printing that are part of their spelling or guided reading passages.
I will be expanding this notion of a comprehensive Language Arts program in the months to come. In the meantime, check out my thoughts on a phonemic awareness and phonics workshop I virtually attended. You can find that post here (uploading later this week)!
If you are looking for a pre-handwriting activity for your students, check out this video. I made it last school year but I’ve done this for the past 10-11 years.