Penmanship Olympics

Extend the olympic season by introducing bronze, silver and gold prize bags for meeting penmanship expectations. Students appear to be engaged when they can add up scores to see which bag they can pick a preferred “goodie”. Other incentive structures could be earning time with favorite activities, lunch with the teacher or a “special” job in the class.

The very basics of legible penmanship are divided into five categories:
1. Letters sit on the baseline.
2. Tall letters are formed from the top line to the baseline: b, d, f, h, l, t, k
3. Tail letters have a tail that goes below the baseline: g, j, p, q, y
4. Small letters fit from the mid-line to the baseline: a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z
5. Letters in a word almost touch.

Give plenty of time for students to become aware of these expectations. Frequent modeling is very important in teaching the expectations. Using writing resources with a mid-line helps many students estimate the size of small letters. Some dry-erase boards and teaching easel paper pads come pre-printed with a mid-line. I have observed some teachers who leave out letters on purpose with sight words or spelling words for students to come up and fill in during teaching or review demonstrations.

To isolate the skill of printing, penmanship olympics can be done with spelling or sight words spelled aloud by the teacher. Each expectation is worth two points. Each word can be worth up to ten points if it contains all three types of letters. For example the sight word “the” has two types of letters (eight points total). If all three letters sit on the baseline, two points. If two sit, one point. If the “t” is too far from the “he”, one point. You will need to determine, based on the grade level of students and background they have in printing instruction and time to practice formations, how subjective you award points. If students have no trouble counting up to one hundred, seventy to eighty is a pick from bronze; eighty one to ninety is a pick from silver, and ninety-one to one hundred is a pick from gold. Be flexible and have fun with the activity!

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