Calligraphy for teachers and pupils

Penmanship, handwriting, lettering, calligraphy.

It has lots of names!

The teacher.

Wherever we live, calligraphy is all around us, trying to make us take notice of it, trying to inform us, trying to communicate. Different styles are specifically selected to create the greatest impact and teachers can learn from this art and through it, make their classrooms more effective in teaching and learning.


Teachers’ styles are always role models, and the quality and style of writing they present is bound to have an effect on the way the children respond.


Styles and sizes of lettering, changes in lettering style, colours, patterns, layout, illustrations amongst the lettering, all make an impact on how effective a written communication can be..and it can be funGet the children to start to collect a class scrap book of different lettering styles…block lettering, script, shadow, antique, etc….Point out that although the styles can be very different, lettering follows certain rules about balance of letter sizes.


Charts, school notices, spelling rules, messages, chalk board writing, badly presented, can be ineffectual, yet conversely can be extremely eye catching and educationally inspiring to the pupil, once a teacher tries to take an interest and a pride in his or her calligraphy.


For young readers and writers, the teacher’s clear, lower case lettering reflecting the style of the first reading books re-enforces the acquiring of their early reading and skills.




Enthusiastic parents sometimes teach their pre school offspring to write their name inCAPITAL LETTERS!  When school starts, the child arrives to see his name written by his new teacher in lower case letters, because that is the style in which the first reading books are printed. Suddenly the child’s name looks very different from the one taught by the parents. What a shock and a disappointment for everyone!


18 year olds under extreme university entrance examination stress, can pepper their written answers with CAPITAL LETTERS that are an anagram of their name… the name they first learned to spell in CAPITAL LETTERS!


Secondary school teachers, especially when working with poor readers, can miss the point too! 


A  games teacher wondered why some of the good footballers who were in the lower sets for reading and writing, did not sign up on his notices for the school team practices. He had written these notices clearly, but in CAPITAL LETTERS. The boys could not easily read the notices and would have been too embarrassed to stand by them and struggle to read the words! So they did not sign up for the teams!


A Special  Needs teacher in a secondary school wrote notices with lettering fit more for a reception class, thinking that appropriate. But her students were not 5 years old and the writing was purile and made them feel  humiliated in front of their more literate friends. By changing the calligraphy of the charts in the Special Needs Room, the classroom looked more trendy, but still had lower case lettering. The pupils were not embarrassed when working there. In fact, they thought it was “cool!”


So please note that thought needs to be given to deciding the best time that children are introduced to CAPITAL LETTERS.

 In short, teachers’ lettering should be appropriate

to the message it is giving, as well as to the audience for whom it is written,

and here the pictures are such a big communication help too. 


The pupil


For good quality handwriting:


Children need opportunities to develop good hand eye co-ordination and the development of fine motor skills. Lots of drawing, tracing, colouring, pattern making, (uncriticised but praised), jig saws, bead threading, sewing on card, playdough etc. can all help here. All these activities help improve manual dexterity.

My niece Emily was 4 when she drew these two cars. She had just learned the colours red and blue.


Keeping the colours within the outer lines shows Emily’s concentration and manual dexterity skills and her and eye co-ordination. With the writing of her name and the drawing of her picture, she has produced something for the onlooker to “read”. In this way, she is communicating her ideas through drawing shapes on a page, which is what writing fundamentally is.


Children need sharp pencils or good pens (ball point pens skid on paper, fibre tipped pens grip the paper) and as good a quality of writing paper as the school can provide, but not too pristine to start, as it makes some children nervous to put the pencil on the paper. Scrap paper practice is more confidence building.

Children need clear and frequent instruction in how to correctly form individual letters in the air, in sand, on paper. Later they need to be taught how to join letters cursively. Some schools teach cursive writing from the start.

Children need a knowledge and understanding of the balance of letter sizes, that:

all the small letters are of the same height, a c e i m n o r s u v w x z.

all the tall letters are of the same height and those with middle sections have their middle sections at the same height b d f h k l  and A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z.

all hanging down letters are as tall as small letters, with sections hanging down to the same level…

g j p q y.

“t” is a three quarter letter, its bar, the same height as small letters.

uprights in letters should be parallel, either vertical or leaning slightly forward.

Children need opportunities to consider different styles of lettering for titles, posters etc. If they collect different styles of lettering examples in a scrap book, they become even more aware of different lettering styles like block, script, shadow, italic, decorated, etc.Then they realise that most letters nearly always follow the same rules of balance of letter sizes.


Children need, if possible, a selection of different types of pens, pencils, wax crayons, charcoal, to experiment and find out what different writing tools will do.

Children need a teacher whose writing is as good a role model as  possible, whether that writing is on the chalk board, in exercise books or on charts and home made books for the Book Nook. 

Children need to know what not to do. See “How to write really badly” an excellent children’s story book, by Anne Fine. It’s about a class planning to make a “How to” book. But the slow learner has no idea what he could write about, until the kind, new boy sitting next to him, enthusiastically tells him how good he is at writing badly!


“I am?” questions the boy enthusiastically. “I really am good at writing badly?”


He didn’t think he was good at anything!

He obviously was not in one of your classes was he?


By working out how to write badly (using a scrappy pencil, some scrumpled paper and with no knowledge of the balance of letter sizes), he actually pointed the way to how to write well.

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