To be able to write down ideas or take notes on paper, students need to form letters quickly and easily. When forming letters, a student uses graphomotor skills to coordinate the muscles in her fingers so they move efficiently.

Once a student can form letters automatically, she can focus more easily on the ideas she wants to use for a story, or the information she needs to include in her notes. She can also think about how to spell a word or to restate a new definition in her own words.

To form letters without having to concentrate on each movement, a student needs to have a comfortable grip, to recall the desired letters from long-term memory, to be able to make a mental picture of what each letter should look like, and to send signals to the right muscles in their fingers to form the letters. Students need to do all of these things while also remembering what they want to write next.

In addition, as a student progresses, the demands of school, including the number of details, complexity of language rules, and vocabulary requirements increase. If students do not learn to form letters easily and automatically, they may find it difficult to produce the writing required. Talking to students about ways to improve their skills can be extremely beneficial. 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, verbal presentations, music or dramatic creations.

Note: With all student writers, but especially those who have difficulty writing letters quickly and easily, 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.

Helpful Hints

  • Hand out notes or a typed or written copy of the material being presented so the student can follow along at his/her desk rather than having him/her try to take notes while listening.
  • Provide the student with partially completed semantic maps outlines, handouts, etc. to serve as guides or to use for review. This will decrease the amount of information a student needs to copy and will help with the organization of the material.
  • Have tape-recorded lectures and old tests or quizzes available in the classroom as resources for students to review.
  • Whenever possible, break up writing assignments into smaller tasks. Help the student think of writing as a multi-step activity. Set requirements and evaluate performance for each step as it occurs (first grade the plan or brainstorming list, then grade the first draft, then grade spelling, etc.).
  • Encourage the student who may have difficulty simultaneously recalling letter formation, spelling, and his or her ideas to do writing in stages (rather than try to spell, punctuate, and develop ideas all at once).