Teaching Cursive Writing


Some may think of cursive as an archaic form of communication – one best left to history.  Personally, I think it’s a valuable skill and well worth teaching in my ESL classes as part of the English language.  Importantly, Japanese students will learn cursive writing in their junior high school classes where penmanship still holds a revered position in the culture.  Just like CVC words, sight words, or stacked adjectives, I  teach cursive writing from a young age in the hope that it will give them a head start in their future English classes.

I start teaching my students cursive writing from third grade; the same age I learned when I was in elementary school. Early on in my teaching, I discovered that my students’ concentration and efforts at writing cursive were, across the board, excellent!  Having to gently interrupt students’ quiet concentration so that we could move forward in the lesson is nothing short of teacher heaven!  Consequently, I love teaching cursive writing!

Understand your cursive ABCs!

Because I teach the skill, I had to shore up my understanding of why the cursive letters are written the way they are so that I could make the claim of authority in front of my kids!  For example, where is the S in the upper and lower case cursive S’s?  Why does a capital Q look like a 2?  (In our modern social media, 2ueen is accepted parlance!)

Remember, the essence of cursive is speed and connectivity.

Here’s a simple illustration of the evolution of the letter ‘G’ into the cursive letter we know today:

What about writing styles?  How have they changed over the years?  Predictably, there have been many methods in the past two centuries.  First, there was the de facto Spencerian Method, developed for “business and elegant personal letter writing.” In the late 19th century,  the more modern Palmer Method made the claim that it was exceptionally masculine, industrial, would strengthen character, and reform delinquents.  This was replaced by the Zaner-Bloser Method in the 1950s, founded by Master Penmen Charles Zaner and Elmer Blozer, leaders in the penmanship industry.  Finally, the contemporary D’Nealian Method was introduced in 1978.  It is a derivative of the Palmer Method and was designed by a primary school teacher to ease the transition between traditional and cursive scripts.  Whatever method you prefer, my recommendation is to teach what you know, use worksheets if possible, and be consistent.

FYI – ‘cursive’ is from Medieval Latin which means running and was the preferred method to accommodate the limitations of quill pens, which were fragile, easily broken and would splatter if not properly used.  The various reforms in writing methods up through the 20th century had the main intent of competing with the speed of the typewriter.

As we begin the lessons, I teach kids that their signature and writing are totally unique, a reflection of their personalities, and that the police even use handwriting to identify criminals! I ask students if they could recognize whether a note was written by their mother or their father, or whose handwriting is better.  (Sorry, Dads, your kids are throwing you under the bus!)  Also, cursive writing gives them the opportunity to be expressive!  I emphasize this with examples of calligraphy in signage, art, history, social invitations, and legal documents.  I also explain that, being 3rd graders, it’s time they joined the big kids club and learn to read and write in cursive.  Finally, this gives me one last chance to go through every letter one more time.

Tips for Teaching

Here are a few tips when you set out to teach cursive writing.

Always begin with a warm up!  Believe it or not, writing in cursive employs a different set of muscles than regular script (remember how tired your hand used to get?)  Practice writing tall and short loops, consecutive u’s, or the up and down of multiple t’s.    Explain how each lower case letter is written with the intent to connect smoothly to the next letter.  And don’t forget to show the kids the purpose of cursive which is to write faster and with as few pen-lifts as possible.  Show them how the loops facilitate the connections between the letters and that dotting i’s and crossing t’s should occur at the end of each word.

Write all the students’ names on the board and see if they can identify their own name.  Importantly, ask them how they knew their name – what letters are similar and what letters are different.  Make sure that learning to write their name is part of the first lessons. Believe me, they’ll practice.

With a set of cursive flash cards, you can drill, sort, and play all the usual games you played when the kids were younger and learning their ABCs.  Putting a cursive writing chart in their notebooks is invaluable for reference.  If you need a refresh on flash card activities, check out my 41 Flash Card Activities.

Finally, have patience – especially if students are writing from memory.  It takes a LOT of concentration and practice to come up to speed.  My own approach to teaching the topic has improved through the years as I experimented with different explanations and demonstration methods.  Anyone who teaches kids knows there’s always room for improvement and your approach will evolve.

“the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.” – George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

To help you get started, here are some free worksheets from my textbook, Cursive Writing! It will give your kids repetitive practice with all the upper and lower case letters.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy the lessons.  Once introduced, don’t forget to employ cursive in your regular teaching and assign repetitive exercises to be completed in cursive!

So, it’s time to show off your talents!  Dazzle your students with your expressive cursive writing skills! Look forward to guiding students’ hands as they learn the loops and curlicues of the cursive alphabet.  And most importantly, enjoy!

Here is my Cursive Writing! textbook, a 40-page ESL primer that includes writing two and three-letter words, transcribing, self-introductions, and easy pen pal and thank you letters.  With these step-by-step worksheets, your kids will become the kings and 2ueens of cursive writing!







As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing


Teaching Stacked Adjectives

What are stacked adjectives?

Nothing made me feel more inculcated into my own language than the idea of stacked adjectives; a revelation that blipped into my head during ‘me’ time in the shower. In an English speaker’s subconscious mind, multiple adjectives have a specific order.  When they fall out of that learned order, the brain glitches and the meaning can be lost, confused, or even misconstrued.

Let me quote from Katy Waldman’s The Secret Rules of Adjective Order.

Though red big barns and big red barns are semantically identical, the second kind pleases our ears more.  These tricky situations – neither pure correlation nor accumulation – generally occur when you cross the border between adjectival regions, such as size and color.  When that happens, an invisible code snaps into place, and the eight categories shimmy into one magistral conga line:  general opinion, then specific opinion then size then shape then age then color then provenance then material.

Thank you Katy!  Think about the following sentences:

A cat.

A black cat.

A big black cat.

A big black plastic cat.

A beautiful big black plastic cat.

A beautiful big old black plastic cat.

A beautiful big old black plastic French cat.

Even the simple sentence, “A black big cat.” is a language pothole, difficult for an English speaker to mentally ignore, let alone read when the adjectives are out of their stacked order (did you miss it or did your mind reorder the sentence?)  Figure this one out:

A yellow new handsome jacket Indian cotton.

It’s difficult to even say, much less discern what the sentence is trying to convey, coming off more like a word salad to an English speaker’s way of thinking.  In their proper order, the adjectives should be aligned in this way:

A handsome new yellow cotton Indian jacket.

How did it happen that, without any memory of having learned this, I expect my adjectives to be in a choreographed line dance with each other?  At any rate, it’s useful, as it gives me a sense of order when it comes to describing something, and luckily, other English speakers seem to be agreeably aligned. (I know, I know… we can be literary and change order to point to or infer meaning in a different way, but let’s not play with poetic subversion today.)

Now that you’re aware how deeply ingrained your sense of adjective order is, let’s start teaching ESL students, step by step.

You can begin with younger students by exposing them to simple adjectives.  In fact, I recommend that you start off very young – even before they learn how to read.  With a bit of forward thinking, it will make their elementary and junior high school English classes a little easier.  If you’ve been doing chants such as, “Five Little Monkeys” or “Five Little Ducks,” then you’re not only priming your kids to hear the sounds associated with numbers and plurals, but stacked adjectives as well!

Making Sentences Without Words

Start with simple nouns that begin with a consonant, like ‘cat.’  Pull out an ‘A’ card from your ABC deck.  Then grab a select few of your number, color, size, and emotions cards as well. (You can download the color and number flash cards from my online store for free!)

Let’s start lining the cards up!  Start with a simple minor sentence.  Then add a color adjective.  Once kids understand this easy pattern, mix the cards up, and have students reorder or make new sentences themselves.  It may be helpful to teach your kids that ‘A’ means ‘1’ in this context.*  If you think your kids can handle it, make a small ‘period’ or ‘full stop’ card as well.  And don’t be all academic when explaining it!  There will be plenty of time for that in their little futures.  Teach a ‘period’ as a ‘bliiiing!’ or ‘ker-dunk’ or a click of your tongue and I promise your kids will never forget to include it – to the point of annoyance.

Stacked Adjectives Kinney Brothers Publishing

Now, let’s add some more adjectives.

Stacked Adjectives 2 Kinney Brothers Publishing

With emotions, colors, size, and an ‘A’ card, your kids have learned to make their first stacks of adjectives!  And they can’t even read yet!  You’re also teaching them to recognize their first sight word!  Like many teachers, you’ve probably been drilling a lot of vocabulary in separate flash card sets.  This exercise brings that vocabulary together into coherent and ordered meaning that visually mimics language and text.  Later on, as your students move from speech to text recognition, and then to decoding language in connected text, it will be helpful to remind them of this simple exercise and the songs they used to sing when little.  Let the kids make their own sentences or dictate sentences for an excellent listening exercise.  Always ask the students to ‘read’ their sentences and help students who don’t yet understand that the correct order is important.

Upping the Ante

Once students are confident with ordering simple adjectives, start throwing numbers into the mix. And don’t forget the ‘bliiing!’  You’ll also be putting an emphasis on the ‘s’ sounds of plurals that they may already be using in songs or regular verbal exercises.  Remember “Five Little Monkeys?”  Do your kids learn, “I’m four years old”?  Then this exercise will be in full agreement with their regular exercises.

Stacked Adjectives 3 Kinney Brothers Publishing

Now that you’ve introduced these concepts to your kids, keep a board or table available with cards so that students can make sentences on their own.  You may be surprised at what they put together!  It also pays to have a bit of sympathy and patience! Trying to consciously LEARN this order must be terrible!  I’m glad I have no memory of it – a sort of potty training of the brain.  If you introduce this concept early on, it’s going to be easier as their studies become more sophisticated.

To learn more about early reading skills, check out my previous posts Sight Words: What, When, and How and Teaching CVC Words.

Finally, download a stacked adjective worksheet page from Stories For Young Readers, Book 2, a full textbook available on David Paul’s ETJ Book Service.  or my Web site.  The worksheet is very helpful for older students when learning to do the Adjective Conga and includes an answer key.  Again, colornumber, and more flash cards are available from my Teachers-Pay-Teachers store!  Please feel free to visit and download!

Stacked Adjectives 4 Kinney Brothers Publishing

Good luck and enjoy!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing


*OK, you grammar mavens – let’s keep it simple. I understand that ‘a’ is a special kind of adjective called an indefinite article that refers to a singular noun whose specific identity is not known to the listener or reader.  Unfortunately, at their age, my kids aren’t going to get that as an explanation – nor should they be expected to.  I also use numbers instead of written words in sentences until they learn to read the numbers as sight words.  I’m aware that this is a grammatical infraction, but I pay little heed to academic imperatives when it comes to teaching my youngest English learners.  Using easy-to-understand concepts (reduced though they may be) to teach young learners is not damaging anyone.  If you are so inclined to always be aligned to Elements of Style, simply put the words on the front of all your cards and you’ll be covered.