Strategies for all learners

March 2, 2011

Handwriting- A Multisensory Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dkelley717 @ 9:08 pm


According to Ford-Hebert “students must be able to rapidly recall and produce the plan and pattern that underlies the construction of each letter” to write proficiently.  This is referred to as motor memory or the ability to store, retrieve, and execute a memorized plan.  Ford-Hebert explains that students who have difficulty with motor memory typically draw their letters, creating them differently each time.

As a first grade special education teacher I am often required to teach handwriting and encounter children who lack motor memory.  So, how can we help these children?  How do we help to develop motor memory for handwriting?


So, how do we teach handwriting to all students?  The following strategies, which are components of many handwriting programs on the market, have proven to be successful.  Of course you don’t need to spend money on a program but you can borrow the great strategies and techniques!  Follow this link for some of the research:

1) Teach similarly formed letters together.  Handwriting Without Tears teaches the easiest skills first and then builds on prior lessons.  Write-On Handwriting groups letters of the same basic pattern which helps develop motor memory.

Frog Jump Capitals: FEDPBRNM, Starting Corner Capitals: HKLUVWXYZ, Center Starters: COQGSAITJ

2) Teach handwriting through a multisensory approach using “VKAT”- Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory and Tactile approaches.

  • Visual– Provide students with a visual model for letter formation.  Sequence the steps of the letter formation and use arrows to signal direction.  Provide visual cues, in the form of words or pictures.

Large Step-by-Step Illustrated Directions

  • Kinesthetic– One way to develop motor memory is through body movement and hands-on activities.  Guide students in sky writing or imaginary writing of letters.  Use large wood or felt pieces to build letters.  Provide students with an opportunity to learn letter formations with their bodies before picking up a pencil.

(wood blocks)

  • Auditory– Teach handwriting skills through song or rhyme.  I have worked with several students who absolutely love songs and benefit tremendously when information is taught in this format.  Use gimmicks or stories to connect learning and to help students make sense of handwriting.  Use student friendly terms to describe the letter formations.  Use the same language/terms consistently and make connections to previously taught skills.

Click here for a sample song.

Where Do You Start Your Letters?

  • Tactile- Provide students with hands-on materials to explore letter formation.  Use paper with elevated lines, sand trays to practice writing letters, and clay to practice forming letters.

Connection to UDL

Teaching handwriting through a multisensory approach provides students with multiple means of representation, expression and engagement (Universal Design for Learning Guidelines).

Connection to Multiple Intelligences

When teaching handwriting using a multisensory approach, teachers are allowing all students access to the curriculum.  The teacher is using a variety of approaches and strategies to meet the needs of all students.  A multisensory approach to teaching handwriting taps into the following intelligences: visual/spatial intelligence, verbal/linguistic intelligence, logical/mathematical intelligence, bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, and musical/rhythmic intelligence.


I am fortunate enough to work in a school district that uses a multisensory program (Handwriting Without Tears) to teach handwriting to all students.  The multisensory approach allows all students access to the curriculum.  I feel like the students and teachers love this program.  It is engaging and it works.  The multisensory strategies and teaching techniques allow all students to develop motor memory for handwriting skills.

It is important to remember that you don’t need to have a specific handwriting program to use the strategies discussed in this post.  All teaching techniques and strategies are adaptable to your current curriculum.

Check out a sample lesson from the Handwriting Without Tears program.

Additional Resources

Dysgraphia Fact Sheet


Ford-Hebert, A.  Write-on handwriting.  Educators Publishing Service. Retrieved from on March 1, 2011.

Handwriting Without Tears. Retrieved from March 1, 2011.

Spear-Swerling, L. (2006). The importance of teaching handwriting. Retrieved from on March 1, 2011.



  1. Hello Diana! I really enjoyed reading your post on handwriting. I work in kindergarten and we use Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) too. We actually pair it with Lively Letters ( This program is multisensory showing students proper mouth positions, colorful pictures, music, kinesthetic hand/ body movements, and mnemonic stories for each sound. The students enjoy learning their letters this way, then we use the wooden pieces from HWT, along with other components to show students how the letter(s) is formed. I find the songs for each sound to be on the “cheesey” side, but it is an entertaining way for students to practice the sounds, and more importantly they enjoy it and it “sticks”.

    After reading the Spear-Swerling article, a interesting piece that struck a chord was manuscrip versus cursive. The article stated that handwriting in the early grades is correlated to achievement in basic reading and writing. Historically, cursive was believed to be the best method for students with learning disabilities. In her research, she states that there is little evidence on which type of handwriting is easiest to learn than the other. It is probably important to focus on the writing that is similar to what they must read in print. (2006) The reason I bring this up is becasue I had a professor in graduate school that took a strong stance on the belief that we should be teaching all students to write in cursive right out of the gate. What are your thoughts or experiences with this idea that cursive is easier to teach, but in the world of print it is in mauscript form? What should we be teaching? Please don’t feel like I am putting you on the spot. I just think it is a thought provoking question for anyone to provide their thoughts. This is a query that can be answered through the ages. In the near future will we be debating: Manuscript/ Cursive vs. Keyboarding?

    Comment by mjgoff — March 7, 2011 @ 8:20 pm |Reply

  2. Thanks for reading Michael! It looks like some of the components of the Lively Letters program are similar to Lindamood-Bell’s LIPS program. In my experiences working with children with learning disabilities in the upper grades (3, 4, 5), I have found that cursive handwriting has been easier and more fluent than manuscript. I would imagine that the motor memory tasks for the cursive letters may be easier to recall and develop automaticity for due to the fact that the letters in the words connect and “flow” more smoothly. You posed a very interesting question and I plan on asking our OT to share her experiences and knowledge with me. I know that our regular ed teachers introduce cursive in the end of second or beginning of third grade. The OTs also introduce cursive in second/third grade to the LD students they work with. And I think you’re right, we will be debating manuscript/cursive vs. keyboarding very soon!

    Comment by dkelley717 — March 20, 2011 @ 6:42 pm |Reply

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