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The REAL deal: forming numbers and letters

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Publish date: 2018-08-14

Today I want to discuss the actual process of teaching your learner how to write numbers and the letters of the alphabet.  I often get questions on the exact process, where to start and how to ensure the learners can copy the numbers and letters.
A good starting point would be to make your learners aware of shape.  Teach them how to draw a circle, a triangle and a square.  The reasoning behind this is that you want your learners to be very observant and conscious about starting point and direction of drawing.

Have your learners copy you in making a big circle in the air, using both hands clasped.  Give them points of reference like “start at the top above your head”.  “Now make your big circle by going towards the door side (the left side), down to your knees and up again to the top above your head where you started”.  Since many Grade R’s are still unsure of LEFT and RIGHT, it makes sense to not just rely on the words left and right.  A friendly word of advice here to the newly qualified teachers: You need to stand in front of the class facing the class and instruct them to copy you exactly.  This means your hands will go the door side (your right side) when they go the door side (their left side).  You just need to remember you are like a mirror to them.

As soon as the learners all grasp this instruction and can follow it, you may proceed to giving them a chalk/ crayon in their preferred hand and asking them to draw the circle on the wall/ black board/ or other vertical surface.

In the next lesson the task would be to draw the circle on a large surface on the floor or a desk.  You can still demonstrate and use verbal prompts to ensure including movement, listening and looking.

Learners with a specific need to use their voices can be allowed to make sounds that simulate going around.  These are usually the boys who need to make “car sounds” as they form the circle.  Caution them to work carefully and “no speeding allowed”

Well done, you have successfully taught your learners to transfer from a sensory motor level to a two dimensional level.  This is a most valuable skill and teachers who skip using the sensory motor teaching will find their learners tend to make the circle the wrong way round, creating problems for writing the “O” and “0” correctly.

The same process has to be repeated for teaching how to draw the triangle and the square.   It is vital that as the teacher you monitor those learners who have difficulty transferring their skill to the horizontal surface.  Allow those learners more time to practice on a vertical level until they can cope with the horizontal surface.  The triangle starts at the top goes to the left, then to the right and then up again.  The square starts at the top left hand corner and them goes straight across to the RIGHT, then down and then to the left and up.  Please check that the learners follow your formation precisely.  This creates the awareness of the importance of following your instruction and will stand them in good stead when you teach the number and letter formation.

Once your learners are comfortable with drawing the three shapes, they are ready to learn numbers and letters.  For teaching the numbers and letters you follow the same process by first teaching the number/ letter “in the air” using BOTH hands clasped, then doing it on a vertical surface and then progressing to the horizontal surface.  Once they can form the number/ letter (using the correct formation) on the big surface, you can guide them to do it on an A4 size paper and then gradually writing it smaller (using the correct formation).

You must have picked up by know that the FORMATION of the shape, letter or number is very important.  NEVER stop emphasizing that the learners must start at the correct place when writing their letters and numbers.  I have found that the sequence in which you teach the letters are less important than getting the formation correct.  When the starting point and initial direction is well consolidated you will have almost NO REVERSALS of the 3, 5, s, b and d!

By the way, you do this whole process again when you teach cursive……

Good luck in teaching your learners this skill – one of the most important he or she will ever learn!

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