Having an uncomfortable or awkward pencil grip can cause students to have difficulty forming letters. To hold a pencil comfortably, a student needs to get feedback from his/her fingers about what that pencil is doing. If a student is not getting this feedback, she may grip the pencil too tightly, and write using her wrist more than her fingers (e.g., the student may place the thumb over the other fingers, creating a fist-like grip, essentially preventing the fingers from moving the pencil).
Similarly, in order to write comfortably, a student also needs to know the position of her pencil point on the paper. Students who do not get this feedback from their fingers, may keep their eyes very close to the page while writing, so they can see the pencil point. Both an awkward grip and writing with the eyes close to the page can be tiring and very uncomfortable.
Having graphomotor difficulties such as an uncomfortable or awkward grip may make a student write slowly and with a lot of effort. In fact, a student may begin to dislike the writing process simply because the act of writing seems so difficult.
Note: With all student writers, but especially those who have difficulty with letter formation, it is very important to respect the student’s feelings about his/her written work. Do not put work on display or have peers correct the work unless the student is comfortable with this type of public review.
- Some students have an unusual or seemingly awkward pencil grip that allows them to write legibly and with good control. These students may not benefit from any changes to their grip, if they are comfortable and the amount of writing they do is not diminished.
- Talk about the difficulties a student might be having with his/her grip. Be positive and supportive. Ask the student if he/she is aware of specific situations where he/she has trouble with her grip, for example, if he/she is tired or has been writing a great deal. Discuss ways the student might improve his/her writing in these situations (e.g., by flexing and relaxing her fingers, by taking a break, etc.).
- Provide the student with a pre-shaped pencil grip to use if his/her grip is not secure or if he/she uses too much pressure. (Pencil grips are available in various shapes and sizes so you can choose one that fits the student.).
- Have a student who uses too much pressure with his/her grip draw a line (of appropriate darkness and width) on a piece of paper, and tape it to his/her desk. as a model. Remind the student to compare his/her lines with the model while s/he writes.
- Try wrapping tape around the student’s pen or pencil, or choosing a writing utensil that comes with a rubber grip. This provides even more sensory feedback, and may help the student become aware that he/she is pressing or squeezing too hard.
- Mark the student’s finger position on his/her pencil with a rubber band, piece of tape, or colored lines.
- Suggest that students with handwriting difficulties might want to write with a pencil rather than with a ballpoint pen. The pencil provides more friction with the paper, will not smear as easily, and usually can be more neatly erased as well.
- Teach the student how to position his or her paper and hand when writing. (Note that a left-handed student may need extra help with positioning.)
- Be aware that a student who has difficulty writing may possess as much knowledge and information, and/or may be as creative or insightful as other students. It is helpful to provide alternative ways for such a student to present materials, such as through artistic projects, through verbal presentations, through music or dramatic creations.
- Provide keyboards and word processing programs, teach keyboarding skills, utilize writing software to help those who have difficulty with the mechanics of writing.
- Be aware that some students with handwriting grip problems may also have difficulty learning to type on a keyboard or typewriter. Guide the student through computer mastery gradually and without undue pressure. As a student is acquiring keyboarding skills, have him/her continue to work on improving his grip, and practicing handwriting.
- Recognize that the computer may become a “survival tool” for students with graphomotor difficulties. However, although a computer may increase the amount and legibility of a student’s work, by itself, it does not necessarily improve the content or quality of that work.