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