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Is Teaching Cursive Writing Worth the Time?

We live in a time where the art of cursive writing is frequently set aside with the disclaimer that it is too time consuming to teach. There are some compelling reasons to teach all students how to write in cursive, and those reasons are particularly compelling for students with dyslexia. Let’s begin with why we would teach cursive.

“The average college student can write 100 words in cursive in the time it takes to write 30 in print.” ~Diana Hanbury King, “Why Bother With Cursive Writing?”

Our first reason for teaching cursive writing is that it is faster to write in cursive than in printing. Clearly, this is true once the child has mastered the formation of each cursive letter as well as the techniques for connecting the letters in a way that makes them readable. An investment of time is required to teach good letter formation.

A second reason for teaching cursive is the way cursive writing packages words into groups which are written without lifting the pencil. This allows the child to develop muscle memory for how to write words with the correct spelling. It also helps with leaving an appropriate amount of space between the words; a common difficulty for dyslexic students.

Thirdly, it is far more difficult to reverse letters in cursive than in print because of the distinct formation difference between the cursive formation of b and d compared with printing. Related to this is the advantage of a “do over” for students with very messy printing or those who have odd or inefficient printed letter formation. An attentive teacher who circulates among the students during writing practice will note the few students who are forming cursive letters incorrectly and intervene to help the child master the correct letter formation on the day that letter is introduced.

A final reason for teaching cursive writing is brain related. Compared with keyboarding, the physical act of writing letters in cursive engages more brain resources. This means the child is better able to recall information he or she has written in cursive compared to what was typed. Cursive writing during brainstorming sessions has been shown to lead to more creative ideas than recording ideas through keyboarding.

The biggest tip for successfully teaching cursive writing begins with the method you choose. Choose a method for teaching the letters which groups letters by stroke type.

As new letters are introduced, have the child practice them with large, whole-arm movements, saying aloud the movements his hand is making, then naming the letter which was just formed. Move to a large whiteboard on which the target letter has been written very large. The student traces the letter, again, saying aloud the movements he or she is making and naming the letter at the end. Then go to paper and pencil, and practice five or six of the letters with the child saying the oral directions and naming the letter. End the lesson with the child writing three or four words using the new letter as well as a few previously learned letters. During this part of the lesson, focus on perfecting the connecting strokes between the letters. Weaving practice of the new letter with previously learned letters helps teach automaticity for both letter formation and connecting strokes between the letters.

Second grade is an ideal age for teaching cursive writing because second graders have the finely developed fine motor skills to allow them to successfully form letters distinctly, even when there is a very small difference between two cursive letters, such as lower case o and lower case a.

There are several great books available that group letters by stroke type. Learning Cursive by King and Leopold is a great one. The scripts that a child says aloud as the letter formation is practiced is at the top of each page, as well as carefully chosen practice words using only previously taught letters.

The newest version is spiral bound. There is a version for left handed students, as well as the usual right handed version:

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