Letter writing instruction for children: Case-sensitive letter frequencies in children’s handwriting workbooks

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Children’s ability to write letters automatically has been linked to academic achievement. Despite the importance of handwriting, handwriting instruction is often neglected and teachers use inconsistent practices to teach handwriting. Specifically, the frequency that children are presented opportunities to write individual block letters in handwriting workbooks has not been studied. Here, we provide the first case-sensitive letter frequency norms of handwriting workbooks for the English alphabet. We created these case-sensitive letter frequency norms by analyzing a corpus of 11 handwriting workbooks containing 31,164 letter requests. The results suggest that children’s handwriting workbooks may not be optimally designed to promote letter writing automaticity across the letters of the English alphabet. In particular, we found that not all letters are represented equally in workbooks (p < .001). Lowercase letters (n = 24,899) were more prevalent than uppercase letters (n = 6265) and varied by letter. Furthermore, children’s opportunities for writing letters in workbooks were related to letter frequencies in children’s picture books (.938 for lowercase, .638 for uppercase). The fact that a letter occurs less frequently than another one in the English language, however, does not mean that the development of automaticity in writing that letter is any less important. By not providing children with roughly equivalent amounts of practice with all letters of the alphabet, designers of children’s handwriting workbooks may have inadvertently provided children with too little practice with low frequency letters. Future research should more directly address how letter frequency influences the development of handwriting automaticity.

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We thank the teachers, occupational therapists, and undergraduate research assistants that provided advice and support in the completion of this project. This work was supported by the William P. Dunlop Memorial Research Fund and The Murphy Institute Center for Ethics and Public Affairs.

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Correspondence to Nicholas E. Fears.

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Fears, N.E., Walsh, L.E. & Lockman, J.J. Letter writing instruction for children: Case-sensitive letter frequencies in children’s handwriting workbooks. Read Writ 33, 171–185 (2020) doi:10.1007/s11145-019-09954-7

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  • Automaticity
  • Emergent literacy
  • Handwriting
  • Letter frequency
  • Letter recognition