Today I am excited to share some great tips to help teach kids to write on lined paper! If you are like me, teaching kids to write the alphabet on lined paper has always been one of my LEAST favorite things to do in Kindergarten, and I was VERY surprised to see that writing the alphabet from memory was on our TK (transitional kindergarten) report card! So I set out to see what my now five and a half year old students would be able to handle.
I was tempted to just let them write their letters on blank paper, but our staff has been discussing the need to teach children proper letter formation from the very beginning to avoid illegible printing later. I decided I would have to just do my best! So I dusted off my trusty book, Living Letters: A Story About Where Letters Live on the Lines from Educlime.com and got started.
This book names the top section “the sky,” the bottom section “the grass,” and under the line is “the dirt” or “mud.” It explains that some letters are “Sky Letters” and that they reach up the the sky, others are grass letters, reaching only to the middle line, and others have their tails in the dirt.
By the way, if you are unfamiliar with Educlime’s AMAZING resources, be sure to checkout their website! I especially recommend the Living Letters Handwriting Teacher’s Starter Kit.
Introduce the Concept with a Story
I read them this book first to introduce the concept of where the letters should be on the lines, and then I showed them how to write the first few letters on lined paper using the document camera do that everyone could see. As the children gave it their first try, we had some success. I told the kids to make sure that they started at the sky and went all the way down to the bottom grass line. But one child said, “Mrs. Butkus, I just can’t figure out where the sky, grass, and dirt are on the white paper.” And that’s when the light went on for me!
Teach the Names of the Sections and Lines on the Paper Explicitly (Establish a Common Vocabulary)
It dawned on me that I could teach the names of each section (and LINE!) much more explicitly, and that we could practice what to call each line whole group! So after schoolI searched online for a large “sky, grass, dirt” picture that I could print out with lines on it.I managed to find one rather realistic picture of the sky, grass, and dirt with lines on it to get us started. Then I found another with just blue, green, and brown and the lines on it,and then I made my own large format (8.5” x 11”) page in black and white with just the lines on it and nothing else. I decided to go ahead and make some of these pages myself so that I could share them with you here today! You’ll find them at the end of this post.
These tools are absolutely ESSENTIAL in establishing this common vocabulary that you’ll need to be able to direct them on where to write their letters efficiently. Once everyone knows exactly what you mean by “sky,” “grass,” and “dirt/mud,” then you can easily tell a child, “Lower case P is a mud letter, so you have to start at the fence and draw its tail in the mud.” And for many of your kids, they may well understand exactly what you mean and be able to fix the incorrectly placed letter without further intervention from you!
Give Kids Time to Learn the Names of the Sections and Lines Whole Group
I printed these three pictures out and put them in page protectors and showed the whole class the next day. I said, “This line on top is the SKY LINE. You start here when you make capital letters.” I have always referred to the middle line as the fence. So I said, “This dotted line is called the fence. We start many lower case letters here.” And for the line at the bottom, I said, “And this line at the bottom is called the GRASS LINE. You have to make sure that your letters touch the grass line before you stop.” Then I showed them what I meant by drawing letters right on those pages with a dry erase marker.
Give Examples and Non Examples of Correctly Formed Letters on Large Format Lined Paper
Then I drilled the class on what each line was called by moving my marker up and downand having them respond with, “Sky!” or “Grass!” or “Fence!” until it seemed that most ofthem had it. First I did it on the realistic lined paper, then the colored lined paper, and then the black and white lined paper. Then I demonstrated how to write a few letters for the group with my dry erase marker right on those pages. I would print it correctly or incorrectly and then ask them if it was done right or wrong? They seemed to be getting it!
Guided Practice: Give the Kids a Chance to Try It (But BE PATIENT!)
If I could go back and do this again, I would print out a small group set of the colored large format paper and have them write the letters in small groups on it with a dry erase marker. Then I would put a page with some smaller format colored lines on the back to see if they could apply this skill on smaller lines, and then black and white lines. We went straight to the small lined paper, and it was pretty hard for some of the kids. I think that part of the problem is that even if you use large lined paper, it’s still pretty small in their eyes! They can do better if you give them full sheet, large format paper that you have been demonstrating, and then begin to shrink it from there.
Give Lots of Practice!
We did this weekly for a while until most of them seemed like they had it, and then we took a break from practicing for a while. I did assign it for homework each week for a while, though! I do think that really helped, at least for those students who have parent that really helps them at home. Once your more advanced kids have mastered writing the alphabet, have them try writing dictated sight words, CVC words, or sentences using their best printing. This introduces a new element into the task because they will have to think about two different things: the word or sentence, plus how to form the letters correctly!
Be Prepared to Reteach and Remind, Again and Again
Each time the children learn a new skill and are doing it in writing, they will likely forget to use their best printing as they focus on that new idea. So watch out, because you’ll have to have them either go back and fix it after they are finished, or fix as they go. And if you don’t keep after them to use their best printing on every single assignment, they will likely understand that nice printing is for the letter writing test ONLY! So in order to make things a bit easier, I remind them of certain things right before they begin writing a letter. For example, I might call out, “Lower case g is a mud letter! Start at the fence!” Or, “Remember, the lower case m starts at the fence and is rounded, not pointy.” I keep a dry erase board handy so I can quickly demonstrate on it if needed. I was also surprised to find that about a third of my kids forgot which line was the sky, the fence, and the grass after taking just a few weeks “off” from practicing weekly! So don’t assume that once you’ve taught the common vocabulary you want to use, they will “own it” forever!
Practice Similar Letters Together
We felt that we needed to go back and reteach how to make the lower case h, n, m, and r because so many of our kids were confused on how to form them correctly. Then we did all of the “Mud Letters:” the lower case g, j, p, q, and y. Another eye opener was to have them try to write only the capital letters from AZ, and then the next week write all of the lower case letters. I was quite surprised how many children had simply memorized the sequence of writing out the whole alphabet, without even paying attention to which letter was which! Nearly all of the children had trouble with a few letters when we practiced this way.
Once They’ve Got It, Try the Numbers!
We found that most of our kids transitioned to writing their numbers on lined paper VERY easily! And suddenly, their numbers were SO much more legible! Just having a guide to help with the size made such a difference! They just automatically started at the top “Sky Line” and went all the way down to the “Grass Line,” and they were off!
Some of Your Kids Might Not Be Ready
I do believe that I have a few kids that are just not ready to print on lined paper. They are learning how to form the letters, but still do not seem to perceive the lines. The only way they can do this is if they are given the full size lines on 8.5 x 11 inch paper. In this case, I advise you to let it go and praise their best efforts! They will grow into it eventually. <3
…And One More Thing to Think About
If you are teaching your students to write the letters on blank paper rather than lined paper, you may want to consider avoiding giving them lined paper to write on. We started out giving our students lined paper now and then before we taught them to use it correctly, and as a result they developed the habit of IGNORING THE LINES! Once this habit starts, it’s pretty hard to reverse! I think it’s best to give them paper with no lines unless you want to show them how to write on them correctly.
P.S. For some letter recognition practice and other alphabet resources, check out our Letters & Sounds resources on my website.
For number recognition and formation practice, check out our number resources here!