Knowledge of letter formation is important for fluent writing, removing the ‘cognitive load’ from the writer and enabling the writer to focus on the message itself. Letter formation reinforces knowledge of letter names and recognition, and of upper and lower cases.
In addition, it may be easier for learners to recognise letters in a word if they know how to form the letters – for example, knowing that a b starts with the down stroke may help a student distinguish it from a d, which starts with the curve.
Knowledge of the function of upper and lower case letters in reading and writing is important for identifying or marking the beginnings of sentences and for recognising or marking key information such as names and places. Writers who use a random mix of lower and upper case letters, or who use all upper case letters may be judged (often wrongly) as unsophisticated or unintelligent.
Working with learners to standardise their handwriting and to use a word processor can greatly improve self-esteem and confidence. Neat handwriting is not an essential skill, however. Many adults have poor handwriting, and keyboard skills are more commonly used in a lot of cases. Nevertheless, being able to communicate in handwriting that is at least legible is an important skill.
Over many years of development, the elements of learning to write in English have included the skills mentioned already, such as working from left to right and from top to bottom of the page. These skills have become recognised as essential building blocks for writing.
The correct and consistent formation of letters is an initial step in learning to write in English. It includes skills such as recognising patterns, knowing where to begin a letter, making shapes, knowing where a letter starts and ends, and getting the correct height, spacing, position and size; the attainment of these skills is often followed by joining letters (for cursive writing).50
As learners master these skills, their ability to write fluently and quickly increases and they are able to relate what they write to the meanings and sounds of the words they are forming from individual letters.51 Readers and writers who form letters according to the established conventions are usually more fluent and confident than those who do not.