Young children are kinesthetic creatures. Their brains and their bodies are still one unit and as such, they are always moving and dancing and touching things and exploring their world in a physical way. Therefore, when we teach writing – particularly to very young, immature, or active students – it is useful to find a way to harness, as opposed to fight, this whole-body learning. This is especially true when a lesson is otherwise very settled or sedentary as students may need a constructive physical outlet to focus more effectively. In lessons like these, there are a host of options that allow students to not only engage with but embody written language while simultaneously refining the fine motor skills necessary for letter formation.
About the Author: Rosemary Hanson completed our 250-hour TESOL Diploma and the 20-hour TEYL specialist. She has been working as an assistant teacher at a Montessori school in China since March of 2016. She also taught a college-level English course and a preschool class in Xian, China back in 2014.
Using large cut-outs of the letters or words, or even with examples written in chalk, have students trace letters or words with different parts of their bodies. According to the teacher instruction they can trace with fingers, with toes, with their heads with their elbows –any body part will do. This will help cement the shape and mechanics of a letter, even without writing the letter on paper. It provides a mental template that they can then apply later.
If space permits, and particularly if there is access to an outdoor space, students can be encouraged to walk the shape of a letter or word, the way their pencil would. This, as an expanded tracing activity, can be done with guide-lines on the ground or in small groups, by following the teacher with an example of the letter or word available for the students’ reference. This can even be expanded past walking to hopping, skipping, “swimming” and jumping: anything that retains students interest and focus.
In this classic of kindergartens everywhere, students form the shape of the letters with their bodies. A letter is given, and they must mimic that letter with their arms and legs. This can be done to music, to a chant, in response to teacher instruction, or even as a way to illustrate a spelling, with multiple students used to form a word.
In this activity, students form the letters or words not as individuals, but as a group. In this activity, students lie on the ground, working together to form a letter with their bodies. If a camera is available, a whole alphabet of student letters can be constructed and used as a classroom tool. In this, as well as the dancing activity, students must actively remember and produce letter shapes.
Writing on the walls:
Similar to tracing, students are writing letters and words with fingers, toes, elbows, etc. but instead of using a template, they are writing from memory. In this activity, they are “writing” the letters or words in different parts of the classroom – the floor, the walls, even their fellow students – as instructed by the teacher. This is a particularly fun and silly way to practice mechanics and recall, and is especially effective for teaching beginning spelling.
Building a letter:
Using any material that is to hand – glass beads, wood blocks, leaves – have students “build” letters and words by placing these materials in the shape of a letter, both with and without a template. This is particularly effective if they are using a material associated with the material: rocks spelled in rocks, or flower spelled in flowers. This slows down student engagement with a word or letter. Instead of the purely mechanical act of writing and re-writing, they have a visual image that they can remember.