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Over the school year, I work each day to sow the seeds that will turn out students who write.  Students who write because they see value and power in writing.  Cultivating writers who work with purpose and intention doesn’t happen in one lesson, one unit, or even in one school year.  Writers grow as they witness writing in their lives.  The waiters jotting down orders. Medical staff recording on charts. Families creating a to-do list, shopping list, planning vacations, and messaging family. Friends, composing emails, journaling, and the many other reasons we write in our lives.

Everyone is a writer, everyone has a story to tell.  Sometimes we hit challenges in the process.  Maybe it’s the act of sitting down to write as Stacey shared in her post, Writing Victories, or maybe writing is challenged by fine motor skills that need to be refined.  In this post, I  will share with you tools and modifications to help writers overcome the fine motor skills that can halt writing.  Writing is about message sharing and communication and while fine motor strength is only a small part of sharing our message, it can be paralyzing for some students.

If it’s the fine motor skills that need to be developed, consider a few of these fine motor exercises and modifications.  Your budding writers might not even recognize them as a precursor to writing, but they will thank you!

Tummy Time:

Remember the tummy time we were encouraged to give our babies?  Well, it’s not over. In my years as a special education teacher, I worked with many occupational therapists (OT).  The OTs suggested I allow students to lay on their tummies, propped on their elbows to write or practice other fine motor tasks. This position allows students to have more control over their fine motor skills.  This is an alternative seating practice my kids use every day.

Inclined Surfaces:

Lap boards, easels, and slant boards all provide writers with a surface that flexes the wrist back and gives greater fine motor control to the writer.  With the wrist flexed back, the hand naturally falls into position to promote a more accurate tripod grasp.  The angle also provides a better visual for the student with visual impairments.

Lap Desk:

Whether it is laying out on the floor or sitting criss-crossed on the floor, the writers in our room enjoy the variety of using a lapboard to steady paper or iPads as they write their stories.  Lapboards bring the work a bit closer to the writer and can provide an inclined surface, again aiding an opportunity to develop fine motor skills.

Bean Bags and Scoop Seats:

Both bean bags and scoop chairs provide feedback as they envelop the body making the writer feel secure and steady.  Add a clipboard, lap board, or an inclined surface to help the writer feel comfortable and ready to write.

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Find the Right Writing Tool:

We all have a favorite pen or stylus, and I have learned small golf or library pencils or a mini sharpie can be just the right size for small hands.  The short size of the pencil allows more control and encourages a better tripod grasp.  Consider adding a few to your games for keeping score, the pencil trays in the office, and the writing area.

Weighted pencils are another tool I have found to help motor planning and provide more feedback to students with balance and proprioceptive awareness.  Adding weight to the end of a writing utensil ( can also be done as home using nuts, bolts, and rubber bands) also promotes a tripod grip by pushing the pen back into the web space between the thumb and index finger.  Vibrating pens are another a big hit.  Their size is a bit larger than a typical pen, making it easier to grasp for some writers.  They are battery operated which adds a nice weight.  When the pen is turned on it wriggles as it makes squiggly lines and provides a high vibration in the hand of the writer.

Get Appy:

Get to the valuable business of creating a message without the struggle of fine motor. Explore apps that allow students to record audio, draw, write with a stylus (or a finger), or type.  Pixie, Explain Eveything, and Noteability are few popular apps that meet all these needs and are easily mastered by young writers.  If fine motor is the obstacle for your writer, versatile apps may be just what you need to support your writer and their stories.

Whatever the writing tool, iPads, computers, pens, pencils, or markers of any size and type, be flexible and allow the writer to explore the options available.  What works for one writer may not be what works for another writer.

Keeping it Fun:

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.20.20 PMInstructional drawing books like those by illustrator artist Ed Emberley and Steve Harpster provide an irresistible invitation to grab pencil and paper. What better way to develop fine motor skills?

Games like Perfection, stringing beads, legos, molding clay, stencils, and Spirograph can be another fun way to strengthen fine motor skills.  If you’re looking for more game-like ideas, Google “fine motor skills” and get ready to start pinning, bookmarking, or noting all the easy and fun ideas; there are a million.




  • This giveaway is for a copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 12:00 p.m. EDT. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winners whose name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 8th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – JOY WRITE BOOK. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.