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Vol 34 No 2, April - June 1996
Page 44


Handwriting: The Neglected Skill
by Mahamad M. Ajineh

Teaching handwriting to beginners may cause a lot of trouble for many teachers, either because they haven't had any training in this regard or because they have to forget their own habits of writing in order to teach their pupils the correct way of forming letters and words.

Most primary stage teachers in the United Arab Emirates and probably in most Arab countries were not trained to teach handwriting because most of them graduated from the faculties of Arts and Letters where the courses focus on literature and not on methodology.

When these teachers start teaching English to beginners, they are face to face with the problem of how to teach handwriting skills. Although they usually attend a training program during their first year of recruitment, their classroom performance in teaching handwriting is disappointing. This could be due to the fact that the time allotted to training them to teach this skill is too limited.

As a supervisor of English, I work with 60 teachers. I start my first round of visits on the first of October and finish it at the end of November. In response to a frequently voiced request for assistance on teaching handwriting, I worked out a training plan which was divided into the following steps:

Step 1: The agenda.

I sent a circular to all teachers informing them of the training program, date, time, venue, and agenda. The topics to be covered were as follows:

  1. Introduction: The importance of handwriting.
  2. Technical terms related to handwriting.
  3. Demonstration of how to write small letters.
  4. Classification system of small letters.
  5. Handwriting practice (small letters).
  6. Demonstration of joined script.
  7. Demonstration of how to write capital letters.
  8. Handwriting practice (capital letters).
  9. Discussion: Procedures for teaching handwriting.

n.b. Since the number of the teachers was large (60), I divided them into two groups, males and females, 30 each. Each group had one evening session from 16:30 -18:00, a break, followed by the second half from 18:30-20:00.

Step 2: Materials.

  1. A big ruler (essential) 120cm long, 5cm wide.
  2. Colored chalk.
  3. Sheets of four line paper.

Step 3: Introduction-changing attitudes.

After the teachers were welcomed, we discussed the importance of handwriting. I elicited terms like direction (left-right orientation), speed (correct hand movement and not lifting the pen when writing), fluency (moving easily and smoothly) and rhythm (balance between letters). Most participants acknowledged the importance of this training, but some had come with a negative attitude, especially those who had many years of experience. To my surprise, this attitude changed when they gradually realized that this program was useful right from the beginning.

Step 4: Relevant terms.

After the introduction, we started talking about the terms that teachers needed to be familiar with when teaching handwriting. We discussed the differences between script and print and joined and unjoined script. We also discussed terms like entry and exit, low/high entry/exit, ascenders and descenders, and horizontal and diagonal ligatures. To most participants these terms were completely new, and it was impossible to continue the session without clarifying them.

Below is a list of terms with definitions and examples that I have used.

  1. Script = handwriting (opposite of print)
  2. Print = mark(s), letters, etc. in printed form.
  3. Joined script: the letters are joined together. e.g.
  4. Unjoined script: the letters are not connected, e.g.
  5. Entry (of a letter): where the letter begins. e.g. the dot shows the entry.
  6. Exit (of a letter): where the letter ends. e.g.
  7. High left-side entry. e.g.
  8. Low right-side exit. e.g.
  9. Diagonal ligature, e.g.
  10. Horizontal ligature. e.g.
  11. Left-side ascender/descender. e.g.

Step 5: Demonstration: Small letters.

I drew a set of 4 lines on the chalkboard, the base line (3rd line) with a different color. Then I asked volunteers to write the letters on the board in alphabetical order. During this activity, a discussion was going on in order to highlight some specific points and reinforce others. Teachers felt free to ask any question related to the activity. Some of the questions that were asked were:

  1. Where does this letter start? (entry)
  2. Where does it end? (exit)
  3. Is it a low or high entry?
  4. How is the ligature? diagonal/horizontal?
  5. What is the appropriate hand movement for writing this letter?
  6. Is it an ascender or a descender?

Step 6: Classification: Small letters.

The teachers, in groups, studied the letters, bearing in mind the script available in their pupils' books. After the discussion we came up with the following groups:

  1. a, c, d, e, u, n, i, m, s. Features: a diagonal ligature, a high left-side entry, a low right-side exit.
  2. h, l, t, p, k. Features: a high left-side entry, a low right-side exit, and left-side ascenders and descenders.
  3. v, w, r, o, b. Features: a high right-side exit and a horizontal ligature.
  4. f
  5. g, y, z, j, q.

Step 7: Practice: Small letters.

Teachers were provided with sheets of paper, and they started practicing writing the small letters. Some of the papers were checked collectively, and some teachers were asked to write certain letters on the board to show the correct hand movement.

Step 8: Demonstration: Capital letters.

I followed the same teaching procedure with capital letters that I used with the small letters.

Step 9: Practice: Joined script.

Teachers practiced writing in joined script, concentrating on the kinds of ligatures in each letter. When this was done, one of the teachers wrote a sentence on the chalkboard (joined script) and this was accompanied by actions, comments, instructions, etc.

Step 10: Discussion.

Finally the teachers sat in groups of five and discussed the appropriate procedure for teaching this skill. This is the methodology they suggested:

  1. Pupils read the instructions in the pupil's book to know what is required (the task).
  2. The teacher checks the pupils' understanding of the task.
  3. The pupils read out the material to be written (words, phrases, or sentences)
  4. The teacher asks pupils to close their books or copybooks in order to focus on the teacher's demonstration. (If books or copy books are open, they will be distracting.)
  5. The teacher draws four lines on the chalkboard using the ruler recommended earlier, with the base line (3rd line) in different color.
  6. The teacher explains to the pupils the function of the base line.
  7. The teacher involves the pupils in the activity even in the early stages when drawing the lines on the chalkboard. During the activity s/he might ask questions in L1 if necessary. The pupils might chorally or individually give instructions to the teacher such as, up, down, left, right, stop, etc.
  8. When the teacher starts demonstrating handwriting, s/he should be aware that everybody is involved and the pupils are motivated. The focus should be on correct hand movement.
  9. When the demonstration is finished, the teacher might ask some pupils to trace some letters on the chalkboard.
  10. The teacher might ask some pupils to write some letters which the teacher feels need consolidation.
  11. With the books open, pupils start practicing handwriting.
  12. In the meantime, the teacher goes around the room to check and help.
  13. The teacher might ask some pupils to write a sentence on the chalkboard.
  14. The teacher might give the pupils a homework assignment to reinforce the material taught. S/he should be aware that it is not overloading.

Mahamad M. Ajineh teaches Supervision and Training to teachers of English. He also taught English to secondary stage students.



  • Ajeeb, A. 1994. Handwriting book. Abu Dhabi: Bin Mansour Press.
  • Hartley, B. and P. Viney. 1989. Basic handwriting in English. London: Nelson.

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