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January 24, 2012 Writing Lessons for National Handwriting Day By Megan Power
Grades PreK–K, 1–2

    January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. This date was chosen for the holiday because it's John Hancock's birthday, and as we all know, he was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence.

    What a perfect day to work on your students' handwriting. Read more to learn how my handwriting instruction has changed in the past few years and to discover a few handwriting tools that you can use in your classroom today.



    A New Way to Teach Handwriting

    In the past, handwriting was always one of the areas I disliked teaching. All those practice pages with students writing the one letter over and over again bored me to death. Not to mention the fact that the practice didn’t transfer over into their other writing during the rest of the day.

    Three years ago I visited a colleague to watch her teach her shared writing lesson. As I walked around the classroom, listening to her talk out all of the letters and watching her students forming them ever so nicely, I saw this typical activity in a new light. Interactive model writing is the perfect place to teach handwriting. At the end of her writing lesson, she went around with Skittles and gave one Skittle to any child that had nice handwriting. At first I was opposed to this: it's against my philosophy to bribe my students with anything. After seeing the students’ excitement, however, I figured I would give it a try and see how I felt about it with my own students.

    The very next day I sat down with my students and, using the document camera, we came up with a detailed sentence. We wrote it letter by letter together. I talked out the description of how to make each of the letters. The students had to watch me write the letter before they could write it themselves. After we finished, I went around and gave out a few Skittles. We had a huge class discussion about the Skittles and how they can try again tomorrow. Students quickly picked up on the fact that if they followed me on the board, they would have nicer handwriting and most likely get a Skittle. The very next day we celebrated because many more kids got Skittles.

    After a few days of doing this, I couldn’t believe how much their handwriting had improved and how much they were learning by just slowing down and talking out this modeled, shared writing activity. After that first day of teaching handwriting, I got rid of all of my other handwriting practice papers. Even more amazing was seeing how their beautiful handwriting moved over into all of their other work.


    Step-by-Step Instructions

    Here’s how it works:

    1. As a class they pick a detailed sentence. This is a wonderful time to learn about sentence building. What makes a complete sentence and what parts are missing? We sometimes change the sentences, making them more logical, adding more details, or choosing better words. For example, the students might say, “The boy ran across the field and scored a goal.” We might change it to “Yesterday the boy dashed across the soccer field and scored the winning goal!”
    2. Once we agree on a sentence, the phonics and handwriting work begins.
    • We stretch out each word and listen for sounds, spelling patterns, or chunks, and I describe how to make the letters. The dialogue might go like this: “Yesterday. What word or chunk do you hear? YY-EE-SS."
    • Students reply, “Yes!”
    • "Great. How do we spell yes?"
    • Students reply with their cheer for yes, which spells the word.
    • "OK, because it is the first word in the sentence, it needs to be . . . ?"
    • Students reply, “Capital!”
    • "Start at the hat line and make a line on an angle to the belt line. Then pick up your pencil and start at the hat line again, and make another line to the belt line at an angle. Then a straight line down to the feet line."
    • Students now write the Y.
    • "You said yes was spelled Y-E-S, so let’s make our e. In between the belt line and the feet line, make a line. Now go up and curve on the belt line and go down and curve on the feet line . . . " 

    3. The dialogue continues as we work through the sentence with phonics lessons, writing tips, and handwriting instructions. After teaching handwriting in this motivating and purposeful way, I could never go back to the practice worksheets.

    In the beginning of the year, we work on just spelling our friends' names and tracing over the rest of the words: "____ and ____ are my friends." Then we move on to simple sight word sentences and then to the sentences described above.


    Writing Resources

    Here are a few other handwriting writing resources:

    Writing Repeater: I love this tool, and so will you. This is wonderful for giving students several opportunities to see how to make a letter or write a word. All you do is write your letter and then click Play. The Web site makes the letter formation into an animation that students can watch. I love that my students can have an animated model of how to write the letters as I am circulating around assisting.

    Animated Alphabet: As with Writing Repeater, I love that I can have this playing on the board or have it on my students’ laptops as they are writing.

    Dr. Seuss Handwriting Paper: I like that this paper has the picture of the Cat in the Hat on each line so students are visually reminded which line is which.


    Other Upcoming Holidays

    Of course, National Handwriting Day is not the only holiday on the horizon. You'll probably be celebrating Halfway Day or the 100th Day of School in your classroom as well.

    Halfway Day

    In my classroom, our big celebration is Halfway Day. This is the "halfway through kindergarten" day. We used to go to school 180 days, so the 90th was our halfway day, but with our budget issues we only go to school 175 days, so technically on the 87th or 88th day, we are halfway through our school year. Please take a few minutes to read a past post of mine with some great ideas for Halfway Day.

    100th Day of School

    Most primary school classrooms celebrate the 100th day of school. As you are searching around for some activities to do that day, take a look at another old post, "Hooray, It's the 100th Day!"


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Susan Cheyney