Concept 1 – Go Lines and Finish Lines

Picture a race.   Participants poise themselves on running blocks at the starting line. Once the race begins, they progress toward the checkerboard flags. It doesn’t matter if you are crab-walking the distance, skipping, hopping or running. You are headed toward the Finish Line.

So are we.

Go Lines mark the place where students should make their first letters. Finish Lines connote the end of the line. It’s a kinesthetic way of reinforcing left to right directionality across the page.

Whenever a student’s pencil marks are moving toward the Finish Line, we call it a forward movement. Writing in general progresses forward. If they write in the direction of the Go Line, it’s called a backward movement, because… for all you Candyland players… they are moving back to Go!

The Student Workbooks and Letterbox Worksheets both contain green Go Lines on the left side of a set of Writing Lines and checkerboard Finish Lines on the right side of the Writing Lines.

For some children, I may actually place a strip of green highlighter tape down the left side of their desks. (Don’t use floral tape… it will stain your clothing!) Down the right side, I’ll place a masking tape strip with a grid running the entire length. Together, the children and I color in alternating boxes to make a Finish Line.

And for some, I’ve simply drawn the same starting and ending lines on a blotter*. The kids color them in accordingly.

Go Lines and Finish Lines eventually morph into left and right margin lines, respectively. But for your youngest students, this is a helpful way of preventing or correcting reversals.

*  Blotters, you ask?  Tell you more soon.

Concept 1 – Writing Lines

writing linesPlain Vanilla.

I’ve often said that this is a plain vanilla program. There is nothing stylized about the font we advocate, nor the writing lines we reference. In fact, if anything, we keep it simple to maintain the focus on the important stuff—Letter Size.

Just the same, it’s necessary to make sure that we’re all on the same page regarding the names of the Writing Lines because we reference them all the time. Toward that end, you’ll be relieved to know that we call the Top Line (drum roll, please), THE TOP LINE!!

Shocking, right?

Typically, I like to canvas children, gathering names they’ve already heard and used for these lines. The variety is crazy. When I suggest the obvious… the BOTTOM LINE for the Bottom Line, they often giggle in unison.

And I’m cool with the middle line being either the DOTTED LINE or the MIDDLE LINE.

Don’t skip this part as basic as it is. Touching the WRITING LINES in all the right places determines whether or not you made your letters the right size.

Check out the other key concepts of writing and let us know how they are helping you and your kids!

8 Key Concepts

The Size Matters Handwriting Program is a concept-driven program, not a workbook-driven one.

If you know the concepts, you can implement an effective handwriting instructional program with no materials at all. In truth, that’s what I did in the years before I ever met my graphic artists, professional printers and manufacturing mentors. The materials have since made it a lot easier and faster. But if you know the concepts, you can actually get started right away.

These are the 8 Key Concepts:

  1. Writing Lines, Go Lines and Finish Lines
  2. Letter Lines
  3. Super C
  4. Starting Points and Initial Lines
  5. Touching
  6. The Rules!  It’s all about Letter Size
  7. Stars and Dice
  8. Spaghetti and Meatballs

We’ll discuss these concepts one at a time. In the meantime, shift your priorities when working with your students. Think Letter Size. When you focus on size, form follows.

You may be skeptics today, but you’ll be believers tomorrow!

Scoring for Size

Touching… it’s a good thing.

Especially when we’re talking about letter lines, writing lines and printing.
In the Size Matters Handwriting Program, letters are scored for Size. And correct sizes are starred when the letter lines touch the writing lines in all the right places.
Are your kids printing Size One, Size Two or Size Three letters? They’ll catch on quickly when stars are at stake. Not only that, they’ll become extra careful about controlling their pencils so the strokes start and stop on the writing lines without going over or under.
Watch this movie to see how simple it is to score for size, measure your student’s printing efforts and track their progress.


No. We’re not talking ice cream.

This is all about printing.

When measuring copying skills, one of the variables that need to be accounted for is the ability to chunk increasing quantities of letters or words. Learning how to track this quality is also the key in learning how to teach it. Here’s where scooping comes in.

The best way to observe a child’s CHUNKING strategy is to sit perpendicularly to the child so you can observe his or her gaze shifts back and forth from the copying prompt to the paper on which s/he is writing.

Each time the child looks up to the prompt, note how many letters or words s/he writes before referring back to the prompt. It’s helpful to have a colored pencil handy. Draw a rounded line underneath all the letters or words written at a time. If the child copies 3 letters before looking back up, scoop those three letters. If a child writes 2 words, scoop those words. If only a single letter is written, make a single line under that letter.

Once the child has completed copying the entire prompt, count the number of times the child copied a single letter. Record that number on the COPYING RUBRIC. Continue tallying the numbers of 2 to 5 letters, or 1 to 4 (or more) words.

The trick to getting faster and more accurate is to learn to chunk more letters and words at a time.

That’s the next lesson!


Spaghetti and Meatballs

Who’d have thought a hearty pasta dinner could make such a big difference in handwriting readability?

Well, it does. And it couldn’t be simpler or more kid-friendly.
Learn how conceptualizing the space in between letters as Spaghetti Spaces and the space in between words as Meatball Spaces translates into an easy scoring system. Quantifying your students’ progress becomes super fast. More importantly, teaching your kids to visualize ‘negative space’ so that they tighten up the Inside spaces and equalize the Outside spaces becomes far more do-able and fun.
Mangia! Enjoy!

Concept 2 – Letter Lines

preview6This is a very meta-analytic approach.  In a matter of speaking, we dissect letters.

In the Size Matters Handwriting Program, we talk about letters being comprised of 6 different types of Letter Lines.  For younger students, we use a more kinesthetic descriptor.  For older students, we are more geometric.  The Letter Lines include:
1.  Standing Tall or Vertical Lines
2.  Lying Down or Horizontal Lines
3.  Slant or Diagonal Lines.  These can be forward or backward, depending on which direction the pencil moves when making them.
4.  Super C Lines.  These are always Initial Lines.
5.  Smiles and Frowns.  These lines can also be drawn either forward toward the Finish Line or backward toward the Go Line.
6.  Clock lines.  These are lines that typically round an analog clock as if from 12 to 6, but on some occasions may circle counter-clockwise from 6 to 12.

Ask your students to identify letters with each of these types of Letter Lines.  It’s amazing how little regard they’ve had of all the instructional posters and banners hanging in the room.  There is a good chance your students will look up, down and all around without finding a single letter example.

Use this opportunity to ‘introduce’ your children to the wonderful tools already at their disposal.  Then bring out this poster, asking if would help them remember how to analyze the component parts of each letter.

Only if the class agrees that it would be helpful should you hang it…. and with a student volunteer or two.  Gather a  consensus on where, too.  If you want your students to actually reference this poster at any point in time, they have to be invested in its content and its display.

Research Publication and Presentation News

We have two manuscripts submitted.

The first is about the Efficacy of the Size Matters Handwriting Program. It underwent some minor editing revisions at the request of the Occupational Therapy Journal of Research (OTJR). We hope to learn soon of its publication date.

The second is about the use of the VMI—the Beery Buktenica Test of Visual-Motor Integration as an outcome measure for handwriting. It is under review by the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT).

As you may recall, the VMI was one of the three tests administered to the children participating in our study. The other two were the Test of Handwriting Skills, which is standardized, and the Minnesota Handwriting Assessment, which is norm-referenced. These latter two tests constitute the data analyzed in the first article as they specifically measure handwriting. The VMI has always contended that it is reliable and valid predictor of handwriting readiness. However, we are learning that it is not necessarily a meaningful correlate as an outcome measure, especially in older children.

The results of these findings will be presented at the AOTA national conference in Nashville on Friday, April 17 from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM.

2015ImSpeaking, research

The full articles explain more. Hopefully, you’ll get to read them in their entirety soon.

Ten… Count ‘Em… Ten

There are 10 fun learning activities on each page of the Letterbox Worksheets.

The first letter lesson is a reinforcement of Letter Size Rules starting with the icon.  Note which number is bolder on the pink, yellow or blue rectangles. This indicates the Letter Size for that letter. Sing the song along with the hand motions together. “Size one letters touch the top line, touch the bottom line, can’t go higher, can’t go lower and can’t float in the middle.”

The second letter lesson is directed toward the largest letter on the page. Start by identifying the letter. Next, it’s all about the Key Concepts. Name the Writing Lines—top, bottom and middle or dotted lines.  Then locate the Starting Points and initial Letter Line. You can even trace that line using your fingers. Ask the child to do the same.

The third letter lesson marks the beginning of sound-symbol correspondence and potential carryover. Point out the picture in the lower left corner. This is the same picture as found on the Alphatrangle. It’s a picture of an object or animal that begins with that sound. Helping children notice the similarity between this picture and the one on the Alphatrangle may make it easier for them to transition to using this letter when they are writing on their own.

The fourth letter lesson reinforces directionality of written work. At this time, point out the green GO LINE and the checkered FINISH LINE. Tell children that when they print, they should start near the GO LINE and add new letters in the direction of the FINISH Line. Moving toward the Finish Line is considered forward movement. Movement toward the Go Line is considered backward movement. Sometimes GO LINES and FINISH LINES are referred to when forming a letter itself.

The fifth activity is the Letter Line Equation. These are the different types of lines that make up the letter.  For instance, Upper Case B is made up of one Standing Tall line and 2 clock lines. Ask the children which one of these Letter Lines was the initial line? This question ties lesson 5 in with lesson 2.

Activity 6 is a chance to develop the distal mobility movement needed for ultimate pencil control. Coloring, especially of smaller detailed pictures, requires subtle finger movement. Model or physically assist the children to color within the lines. Don’t forget to point out that this is another picture beginning with the letter sound.

Activity 7 encourages students to mark the Starting Points on each of the 4 letters inside the letter boxes. This activity should not be rushed. It’s important for the children to carefully place a dot exactly on the Top Line… not higher or lower. Your insistence on the care in which a Starting Point is rendered reinforces the importance of being just as careful when tracing the letters themselves. The child’s pencil should touch the Writing Lines properly, without going higher, lower or floating in the middle. The gray background frames the spaces in which the child must focus his or her efforts.

Activity 8 is more Trace It/Make It practice on Kindergarten Ruled lines. Here, the Starting Point are already marked. Continue counseling the children to regard the writing lines with care.

Activities 9 and 10 are a Review… and the children’s first quiz! Teachers, therapists and parents are encouraged to cover the page with a piece of standard paper up to the Finish Line. Ask the students, “What letter lines are used this letter? Circle them.

Activity 10 asks “What size is this letter?” Once again, sing the Rules of Size One Letters, including the hand motions. Circle the right answer.

Watch the video attached to the Letterbox Worksheets to see all the fun.

Goofing Up

There is nothing children like more than catching adults as they mess up. A close second is when they get to tell their elders, “You made a mistake!” It bolsters their self-confidence and reinforces their knowledge.

That’s why, during the Size Matters Handwriting Program, we goof up all the time. And we do it on purpose. Especially while they’re watching.

The key to making this charade a meaningful one is to insure that the kids know what constitutes right and what qualifies as wrong. In other words–The Rules. To be more specific, the Rules on Letter Size.

Imagine the drama.

Before you start, ask the class to wish you ‘Good Luck!’ Using a lined writing surface (e.g. Smart Boards projecting adapted paper, Magnetic Rectasquare Boards, etc.) and with chalk or marker in hand, take a deep breath. Then attempt to print a Star-Worthy letter.

If the letter is comprised of Standing Tall Lines, be sure to make them slanted. If the letter is comprised of Slant Lines, deliberately make them horizontal. If the letter has intersecting lines, clearly overlap them. Most importantly, be sure to make the letters too tall, too long or too short. Step back and ask the class, “How did I do?”

Without exception, the children will likely yell out some version of ‘Terrible!’ Looking dejected, ask them why. At this point, the kids begin owning the lessons you’ve be drilling into them. Prepare yourself for critiques about your use of Letter Lines and your misuse of Letter Sizes. Innocently ask them, ‘So what size is this letter???’

In united chorus, the right answer should come back to you.

“And what’s the Rule for Size 1, (2 or 3) letters?”

Again, you should hear that familiar refrain, repeated so many times throughout the day. The song and the dance that accompanies every Letter Size Rule.

“OH!!!” You reply. “Can I try again?”

Your gracious students will surely relent. And just as conclusively, you will make another attempt, but this time with a whole new set of errors. Repeat the dialogue and the Rules to the Letter. In fact, repeat the whole scene 3, 5, 8 or more times until every conceivable error you have ever witnessed has been demonstrated. Leave the incorrect samples on the board for comparison. And after every attempt, return to the chorus… “So tell me again, what size is this letter and what is the Rule?”

Guaranteed, your children will be excited to try their hand at making Star-Worthy letters. Grade their attempts, whether on the board or on their papers. Did they use the right Letter Lines? Did they make them the right Size? Does their letter earn a Star?

But what exactly are the Rules?

Stay tuned!