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Basic Principles

Correct Grip

As soon as possible children should be encouraged to adopt a satisfactory pencil hold which will enable them to write effectively in a relaxed manner and which will not result in problems at a later stage. It would be wrong to suggest that there is a precise method of holding a pencil that must be adopted by all, but there are basic principles which are generally accepted.


In the natural tripod grip the pencil is held lightly between thumb and forefinger, about 3 cm from the point, with the middle finger providing extra support. The pencil (or pen) should rest on the end joint of the middle finger. The other two fingers rest lightly on the paper along with the side of the hand. It is important that the pencil hold is so light and relaxed that the pencil can be pulled out of the grip easily. The pencil should point along the line of the forearm to the right of the shoulder at an angle of 45 degrees (approximately) to the writing line. Similarly the angle of the writing instrument to the plane of the paper should be 45 degrees (approximately).


The method of holding the pencil is much the same as for the right–hander except that the grip should be about 4 cm from the point instead of 3 cm. This change makes it easier for the writer to see what is written. Special care is needed to ensure that left-handers do not grip the pen too tightly. Left-handers find the correct angle of pencil to paper more difficult to achieve but can be helped through ensuring that the pencil is neither too hard or too sharply pointed.

Directions for the teaching of correct grip

  • Hold your pencil very lightly between your thumb and fore finger.
  • Your middle finger should also rest very lightly on the pencil.
  • Your other fingers and your hand can rest lightly on the desk
  • Do not press heavily on the paper
  • The pencil should point along your arm. It must not point up in the air or towards your body
  • Use your left-hand to hold your exercise book steady.

Handwriting is a skill and like all skills, it may be improved and refined through practice.

Letter Formation

  • In teaching letter formation, the importance of establishing correct movements cannot be overstated.
  • Every letter has its own precise movement always starting at the correct point and moving in a fixed direction. Families of letters have certain starting points and movements in common, and should be taught together.
  • Observe how the child forms his letters – be careful not to be influenced by the finished product if done unobserved
  • Incorrect letter formation leads to difficulties when learning joined writing.
  • The most common and troublesome error arises from the practice of forming the letter o and its related letters as a clockwise circle.


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Criteria for assessing handwriting

A large part of any assessment of the quality of handwriting is likely to be subjective, but there are criteria for assessing the quality of handwriting, and it is important to foster in the  children an understanding of these  criteria. The main criteria for assessing handwriting are:

  • Is it formed with the correct grip and the correct basic movements?
  • Is it written fluently and rhythmically ?
  • Is it legible ?
  • Are the letters the correct shape and size ?
  • Are the slopes of the letters right and consistent ?
  • Have the letters the correct relative height ?
  • Is the inter-letter spacing appropriate ?
  • Is the inter-word spacing appropriate ?
  • Are the joins the correct shape
  • Are the slopes of the joins correct and consistent ?

Significant faults

  • Faulty pencil grip – the pencil is gripped too tightly and the pupils then have difficulty in producing rhythmic smooth writing. Crooking of the forefinger is often a sign that the pencil is being held too tightly. The cure is to make the pupil hold the pencil with the thumb and middle finger and merely rest the forefinger on the pencil.
  • Incorrect formation of letters
  • Reversals and inversions

Underlying problems

  • Lack of confidence
  • Specific learning disability

General strategies for corrective teaching

  • Demonstrations and instruction – provide additional and repeated demonstrations and instruction. Such additional practice may be best organised for individuals and small groups so that close supervision is possible

Sequence of preparatory writing activities

  • Writing movements using paint brushes, felt pens or chalk
  • Scribbling exercises with a pencil
  • Recognising shapes and filling in outlines with coloured pencils
  • Rhythmic writing exercises to counting, music and rhymes
  • Writing movements with pencil, making elements of letters, figures and patterns
  • Copying of letters, words and sentences

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  • Check for correct pencil grip, hand positions and sitting posture.
  • Before attempting to write any letter, the child should first trace over it a number of times with the forefinger, while saying the movement involved in forming the letter – e.g. for c, say “around and stop”. (See full list of letters at another part of this document).
  • The letter should then be written in the air a number of times by the child while again saying the movement involved in forming the letter



  • These capitals are made without lifting the pencil


  • Two movements are required to form


  • Three movements are  required to form


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Capital Letters


  • There are 2 movements required to form the letters, N, M, T, Y, K, X, D, P, B, R, Q, G.          The pencil has to be lifted and replaced to finish the letter.
  • There are 3 movements needed to form the letters, E, F, H, A.


As the children will encounter variations in some of their letters (especially in print), they should be made aware of these variations in Senior Infants. This should only be done when the children are comfortable and confident with the letters as described above.

The following variations on letters should be taught:


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Order in which Letters should be taught

Junior Infants

c, a, d, g, q, o, r, n, m, h, b, p, i t, j, f, k, x, u, y, l, v, w, z, e, s


say - around and stop


say - around, up and down


say – around, up to the top and down


say – around, up, down to the bottom and around


say – around, up, down to the bottom and curve


say – around and up around


say – down, up, around and stop


say – down and up, around, down and stop


say – down and up, around, down and up, around, down and stop


say – down from the top, up, around and down


say – down from the top, up and around


say – down to the bottom and up, around and stop


say – down, lift and dot


say – down from the top, curve, lift and cross


say – down to the bottom, around, lift and dot


say – around at the top, down, lift and cross


say – down from the top and lift, back across and down across


say – down across, lift back across


say – up and around , up and down.


say – down, around and up, down to the bottom and around


say – down to the top and curve.


say – down across and up across


say – down across and up across, down across and up across


say – over, back and across and over again


say – up across, around and stop


say – around and forward around.

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All Classes from First to Sixth

First Class

  • At the outset, revise all letters – small and capital.
  • Introduce joined writing

Joined Writing

Joined writing should be  taught in each class from 1st to 6th . The recommended stage for the introduction of joined writing is towards the end of the second term of 1st Class or the start of the third term of 1st Class. The first requirement is readiness, but this can be a double-edged sword, and waiting for too long may cause even greater problems with the introduction of joined writing.

  • The first priority is legibility
  • The second priority is speed
  • Check for correct pencil grip and correct letter formation

The transfer of newly learned components of handwriting into the child’s daily writing exercises will take  time and care. The changes in handwriting will interfere temporarily at least with the normal flow of everyday writing.

  • To minimise the time span required to make this transition, the frequency and duration of handwriting sessions should be increased for as long as is necessary to consolidate the changes.
  • When the joins have been taught, and the child is comfortable with joining his letters, handwriting lessons should move from the special handwriting copies to the child’s regular copies.
  • When the child had successfully transferred his joined writing to his regular copies, he is then ready to use joined writing in his everyday exercises.
  • The timing of the change from pencil to pen /biro will depend on readiness, and is at the discretion of the teacher, but it is anticipated that this transition will have been effected by Third Class (at the latest). The criteria for this change are that the child is using all of the joins in his copies and his writing is of a good size.
  • The child should be aware of what is required in matters such as correct letter shapes, correct letter sizes, appropriate spacing and margins.
  • Individuality of handwriting style is acceptable provided that the degree of legibility is adequate
  • Higher standards can be achieved if handwriting practice is continued into the senior classes and for many children this practice is needed
  • The teaching of handwriting is largely a matter of teaching movement. Therefore, the importance of demonstration is obvious. The teacher should model good rhythm and speed when joining writing on the blackboard.

Joined Writing: 23 Steps


The up-stroke is continued around to where a, c and d begin


8. Joins to tall letters – b, h, l, k, t.

When b, h, l, k and t follow letters which finish with an up-stroke, the up-stroke is the same height as for small letters, then turns to point straight up to where the tall letter begins and comes down again to form the letter






22. ff or ft – use one stroke to cross both letters

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Texts in Use, 2004 onwards

  • Nelson Handwriting
  • Junior Infants: Workbooks 1, 2, and 3 – Blue Level
  • Senior Infants: Workbook 4
  • First Class: Workbooks 5 and 6 + Developing Skills, Red Book (bought by school)
  • Second Class: Developing Skills, Yellow Book
  • Third Class: Developing Skills, Book 1
  • Fourth Class: Developing Skills, Book 2
  • Fifth Class: Developing Skills, Book 3
  • Sixth Class: Developing Skills, Book 4.

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