Video summary: Explicit teaching of letter formation

Learners won’t automatically pick up the correct letter formations because they are exposed to them, we need to be deliberate and explicit in teacher letter formations.

Remember, teaching letter formations lead to automatic writing which frees up the brain for more creative and critical thinking.

Now let’s look at how you could introduce your learners to the different letters. You could start with ‘a’ and work your way to ‘z’ in the alphabet, or you could choose a more explicit and constructive strategy like using letter families. This is where you group letters together based on similarities to help learners remember the formation of letters. Now there are different handwriting programmes out there, and your school might follow a specific one, but the key concept behind most of them is to introduce learners to letters in groups or families. What you see below is an example of letter families, different programmes might group different letters together and give different names to these groups.

Some common groups are:

  • C-shape words with a rounded pattern. These letters all start the same with a C-shape: o a d g q 
  •  Linear shapes and these letters are grouped together because they all begin with a line: i t k j 
  • Up and over letters. These letters all begin with dropping down, bouncing and going over: r b h n m p 
  • Diagonal shaped letters and these letters are grouped together because the first movement in writing these letters is a diagonal line: v w x 
  • Miscellaneous group as these shapes have no common stokes with each other or other letters: s u f e z y 

The benefits for teaching letters in groups with common strokes or directional pull of the pencil is because it builds motor memory and promotes rhythmic or fluent writing. The repetition of the shared movement helps with learning letter formation. Motor memory refers to the ability to instantly recall and complete a specific motor movement without you having to think about it. When you do something so many times that is becomes automatic – that is motor memory.

We use motor memory all the time, for instance,  tying our shoelaces. It was once a complicated task that we needed to think about and concentrate while doing it, but the more you practised it the less you had to think about it until it was automatic and you don’t have to think about it at all. Writing is the same. When you master handwriting you can write without having to stop and think about where to start or stop the letter, it has become automated through years of practice which allows us to become fluent and automatic writers. Often learners with messy handwriting have not developed this motor memory.