Learning to write letters and numbers is more complicated than it seems. You’ve known how to do it for longer than you remember, but learning it can be hard just like learning anything else. Here are some tips on how to make it easier for the student than just memorizing dozens of shapes.
- Start with uppercase/capital letters. They are simpler than lower case.
- Teach letters in groups according to how they are formed. The groupings at the bottom of this page come from Handwriting Without Tears. This is a common and widely accepted way of grouping letters, but different programs may do it differently.
- Start by modelling the letters for the child. Then write them with your hand over theirs, then tracing, then imitation, then copying, then move on to having them write from dictation/memory.
- Provide verbal prompts and instructions using formation chants that tell the child how to form the letter and encourage them to say these chants out loud or in their head while they write these letters (e.g. “n” is “dive down, swim back up, over, down, and bump the bottom”)
- Use multisensory mediums. This can mean forming letters in sand, making them out of dough or pipe cleaners, writing them with paint, or making letters with fingers or arms.
- Make it a game: you and the child guess what letter the other is forming, or you find and trace letters on a Bingo card.
- Do not exceed more than 1-3 new letters at a time.
- Once children know the letters, you can have them play letter matching games. Match letters that are written in different fonts/styles to teach them to recognize various styles of letters
- Practice sessions should only be 10-15 minutes in length
Letter Formation Groups
Frog Jump Capitals: F, E, D, P, B, R, N, M
These letters start at the starting corner (top left when written in a box), make a big line down, then frog jump back up the starting point/corner to finish the letter.
Centre-starting capitals: C, O, Q, G, T, I, J, A, S
These letters start at the top in the centre and then either curve, dive, or slide down
Starting corner capitals: H, K, L, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
These letters start at the starting corner (top left when written in a box), then either dive down, slide down, or slide across
Handwriting Without Tears lowercase letter formation groups:
Magic c letters: c, a, d, g, o, s, q
These letters start at the top and curve around like a “c” and then without lifting the pencil they turn into one of these letters
Line letters: l, t, I, j
These letters start with a straight line down from the top
Diver letters: r, n, m, h, b, p
These letters start by diving down from the top and then swim back up along the same line and then without lifting the pencil they turn into one of these letters
Slide letters: v, w, x, y, z, k
These letters all involve making diagonal lines or “sliding”
Tricky letters: u, e, f
These letters are tricky to form and all start in different ways
These images demonstrate the correct way to form numbers:
This resource provides rhymes to make number formation practice more engaging and to guide children on how to correctly form numbers:
Addressing Letter/Number Reversals
Letter/Number reversals are common in young children and typically resolve by grade 2 or 3. Reversals are often caused by issues with visual perception. The most common letter reversals are b/d, p/q, m/w, M/W
- Reinforce proper formation using letter/number formation chants, regular practice, and multisensory mediums
- Play letter finding and recognition games using flashcards (pair letters with images of things beginning with that letter), sorting letters, Alphabet Bingo, letter hide-and-seek, letter beanbag/ball toss, collage of commonly reversed letters and have them circle all of one letter one colour and the other letter another colour
- Make many circles in a row and have the child add the sticks to form the letters you name
- Teach and encourage the use of memory strategies. Some possible memory strategies are provided below
- The “honey bee” and “crazy dog” strategy
- Start with an “h” for honey, and turn it into a “b” for bee à honey bee
- Start with a “c” for crazy, and turn it into a “d” for dog à crazy dog
- The “bed” strategy: “Thumbs up for jumping on the bed”
- Have child put their thumbs up and hold their hands next to each other with the front side facing them (see below)
- The left hand looks like a “b” and the right hand looks like a “d” and when put close together it looks like a bed
- The “pop quiz” strategy: “Thumbs down for pop quiz” (because no body likes pop quizzes)
- Have child make a thumbs down with both hands and hold them next to each other with the back side of their hands facing them (see below)
- The left hand looks like a “p” and the right hand looks like a “q”
M/W or m/w reversals:
- The “mountain and waves” strategy (see image below)
- Mountain begins with the letter M/m. This letter looks like 2 mountains next to each other when it is written.
- Waves begins with the letter W/w. This letter looks like waves.