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Basic Strokes: The Foundation of Handwriting

Posted on Tue, Sep 3, 2013 @ 09:09 AM

Another school year has begun!  Hopefully, your students practiced their writing skills over the summer, but even if they didn’t, they’ll have plenty of opportunities now.  They will be writing by hand every day in their language arts, math, science, social studies, and even art classes! 

Some students may have already learned manuscript and/or cursive letterforms, while others are going to be learning them for the first time. If you are reviewing and practicing manuscript or cursive with your students, beginning the year with a review of the basic strokes will help them maintain legible handwriting.  If you are introducing manuscript or cursive writing to your students for the first time, it’s essential to teach the basic strokes before beginning letter instruction and practice.

The Basic Strokes

The Importance of Basic Strokes

The basic strokes are the building blocks for all manuscript and cursive letters; you might say they are the “DNA” of letterforms.  When we write a letter, we actually write a series of strokes that, when combined, represent a letter.  Some letters are formed with a single stroke, while others require several strokes.  

Illegible letters can always be traced back to the incorrect formation of one or more basic strokes.  This is why teaching the basic strokes before any letters are introduced is vital to handwriting success.  If a student cannot make an isolated basic stroke correctly on paper, why would we assume he or she can combine several different strokes to make letters and words?

Knowledge of the basic strokes also contributes to letter recognition and reading success. Research on handwriting and the brain shows that the brain recognizes letters based on their component parts (the basic strokes).  The physical act of writing by hand activates the brain to recognize each series of strokes as a specific letter.  The brain will then recall this information every time a person reads or writes something. 

Teaching the Basic Strokes  

Here are a few tips for teaching students basic strokes for the first time:

  1. Teach one stroke at a time.  Focus on one basic stroke at a time and be sure students have mastered each stroke before moving on to the next. 

  2. Show examples.  Make sure students have proper models of the basic strokes to reference as they practice.  Handwriting workbooks should have a section in the beginning that covers the basic strokes.  If you aren’t using workbooks, make sure you use worksheets that show proper models.  Alphabet wall posters are also a great classroom reference for students.

  3. Talk about it.  Discussing each stroke will help students understand them more thoroughly.  Say the name of the stroke.  Discuss where the stroke begins and ends and describe how the stroke is formed.  Ask students to look at the alphabet and identify which letters contain the stroke. 

  4. Practice.  Students should first trace over screened models of the stroke to help them get a feel for how to form it.  Then, students should practice writing the stroke 6-8 times per line for 2-3 lines. 

  5. Evaluate.  After each line of practice, ask students to stop and evaluate their work.  Immediate self-evaluation will help students recognize their errors and correct them in their next line of practice.

The goal for handwriting instruction is to teach this skill so all students can apply the skill fluently for effective communication. If students can recognize, name, and legibly write the basic strokes (whether manuscript or cursive), they will be able to write all of the letterforms correctly.

Universal Handwriting Samples


Topics: handwriting instruction, basic strokes