In March, 2013, Virginia Berninger, one of the nation’s leading researchers on handwriting development and effective handwriting instruction, wrote an informative and enlightening paper titled, “Educating Students in the Computer Age to be Multilingual by Hand.” (1) If you are as interested in handwriting as I am, it is definitely worth reading.
I was impressed by what I learned there, reinforcing the foundations upon which I’ve based my handwriting practice. My commitment to connecting handwriting with writing skills has been a well-founded undertaking, as well. Berninger writes that the automatic formation of letters by hand “is the best unique predictor of composition length – how many words written within a constant time limit.” She adds that research supports the practice of using handwriting instruction as a “warm-up” to any writing activity, just as athletes and musicians warm-up before games and concerts. Both the instruction and reinforcement of handwriting skills can enhance spelling and composition activities written by hand.
In every handwriting session, my students begin their work with gross motor, vision, and sensory warm-ups. It is important to “get the body ready” to work on the precise fine-motor handwriting skills. In much the same way, handwriting warm-ups get the brain ready to work on the cognitive skill of writing. Berninger states that “Handwriting instruction does not have to take up valuable time for meeting other Common Core standards. Less is more, especially if handwriting is taught as a tool for ideas expression.” Now, while I don’t agree with her inference that handwriting isn’t as important as other educational goals (Is it okay to disagree with a professional of her stature?), I do resoundingly agree on turning handwriting “from practice to functional!” With that said, let’s take a look at 5 Fun Activities that can put handwriting practice in the warm-up line-up!
Before spelling, note-taking, and written expression tasks, spend 5 minutes prepping the hand and brain for writing with some of these activities. Be sure that each activity includes a writing utensil! You will find that they are many of the familiar instructional activities that you use in your handwriting class.*
For the Young Ones (K-2nd Grade)
1. Visual Motor Mania
Purpose: Assists the writer with efficient pencil control, letter alignment, and spacing.
– Mazes, word finds, or hidden pictures that include pencil use.
2. Tactile Challenges
Purpose: Prepares the hand and fingers for appropriate pressure on the pencil and to the paper.
– Tracing letter formations with index finger, chalk, or a q-tip on a chalk board or construction paper.
– Tracing or forming letters with a tissue paper overlay or sandpaper underneath.
3. Memory Makers
Purpose: Enhances motor memory skills for the automatic recall of letter formations.
– Writing letters or words they hear through dictation.
– Writing dictated letters or words on the chalkboard or paper with their eyes closed.
4. Mix and Match
Purpose: Enhances the ability to recognize a letter in both upper and lower case.
– Race to write the upper and lower case versions of letters that are dictated.
– Write words that use an upper case (e.g., name) and lower case (e.g., verb) version of a letter that has been dictated.
5. Make Space for Me
Purpose: Prepares the eyes to manage spacing and letter alignment.
– Fit letters or words demonstrated on the board into the correct boxes drawn on a worksheet.
– Fit letters or words onto various sized lines on a worksheet.
For the Older Ones (3-5th grade)
1. Motor Memory Mixers
Purpose: Enhances automatic recall of letter formations and words.
– Write down the letters of a word that have been dictated out of order, then rearrange them to create a word.
– Write letters that are dictated and cross out the ones that do not belong in the word (e.g., morening for morning).
2. Visualization Without Peeking
Purpose: Enhances motor memory for automatic recall of letter formations and words.
– Write dictated letters or words on a paper with eyes closed.
– Write the alphabet in order with eyes closed.
3. Close It Up
Purpose: Enhances automatic recall of letters and copying speed.
– Complete an incomplete letter demonstrated on the board.
– Decipher and complete words written on the board with the top half erased.
4. Space Attack
Purpose: Prepares the eyes to manage spacing.
– Write dictated words in the appropriate boxes on a worksheet or graph paper.
– Copy short sentences into appropriate boxes provided on a worksheet or using graph paper.
5. Line It Up
Purpose: Prepares the eyes to manage letter alignment.
– Write upper and lower case versions of each letter of the alphabet side-by-side independently.
– Write dictated words that begin with an upper-case letter.
It is true that “less is more,” or as my mantra goes: “Quality versus Quantity.” Just a few minutes of warm-up can help students to master both their handwriting and writing skills!
*Important Note: These warm-ups are not intended to be a substitute for structured, guided handwriting instruction. There simply is no substitute for that!
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine. Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.