How to Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation

Many children have a hard time learning how to form letters and numbers. As a school-based occupational therapist, I receive many referrals for this problem. Handwriting is a very complex function that requires many underlying skills. This post will focus on how to help kids learn how to print letters with correct line orientation or how to place letters correctly on the line. Difficulty with line orientation can make handwriting very difficult to read. For more information on the importance of handwriting legibility check out this post.  Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It So Important?

Several factors can make a child’s writing difficult to read.  

  1. Poorly formed letters
  2. Letters that are squished together or spread too far apart
  3. Words that are squished together or spread too far apart
  4. Poorly organized writing that is all over the page instead of aligned along the margin and lines of ruled paper
  5. Very faint print that is difficult to see due to inadequate pressure
  6. Very dark print that appears messy due to too much pressure

What Does Trouble With Line Orientation Look Like?

Letters may be written on top of the lines, or float above and/or below the lines. Letters may be too big to fit within the lines. Writing may consist of a mix of big and small letters that vary in placement on the lines. Some children may write with no regard for the lines at all. In this case, letters are typically very large and are randomly placed on the paper. In this post, the focus is on line orientation or letter placement. Being able to discern if letters are tall, short, or descending, and place them correctly on the lines of ruled paper is an important component of handwriting legibility. Problems with line orientation can make handwriting very difficult to read.

Why Do Some Kids Have Trouble With Line Orientation?

  1. Lack of fine motor control
  2. Inefficient pencil grasp
  3. Poor eye-hand coordination
  4. Poor visual-motor integration 
  5. Poor visual processing skills
    1. visual closure
    2. visual discrimination
    3. visual scanning
    4. form constancy

How Can You Address Poor Line Orientation?

There are several ways to help kids learn how to place letters on the line correctly. Here are some things you can do:

Activities

  • Draw lines on a piece of paper. Place the paper in a page protector. Have the child try to form letters and place them correctly on the line using play dough, Wikki Sticks, dry erase markers, and/or theraputty.
  • Roleplay. Allow the child to act as the therapist or teacher. Illustrate errors with line orientation by writing a word or sentence containing a few mistakes. Have the child try to identify and fix your mistakes. Kids love this!

Use Checklists

Checklists help kids organize and plan out the steps needed to edit their handwriting. Some provide a visual model to help kids learn how to identify their errors. Also, checklists are interactive providing a hands-on approach to the editing process. Who doesn’t like to check off boxes? It can be very satisfying.

Therapist tip! Use checklists at the student’s pace. Handwriting checklists often try to tackle too many components at once. This can be overwhelming for students because it’s too much information to process. I recommend gradually building children’s legibility skills and increasing the challenge as they progress. Determine what deficit is impacting their legibility the most and start there.

The checklists below address only one legibility component, letter placement in progressive steps. The amount of visual cues is faded to match the child’s needs as he or she improves.

Letter Placement Checklist Level One
Letter Placement Checklist Level Two
Letter Placement Checklist Level Three

I like to laminate checklists or put them in page protectors so they can be used over and over again with a dry-erase marker. It is helpful for some kids to have the checklist adhered to their desks. You can shrink the image and tape it to the corner of the desk or place it in plain sight. This will serve as a visual reminder to edit their handwriting.

Would you like to use these checklists with your little ones? Get your free PDFs here:

Change the Paper

If the child is in kindergarten or first grade, make sure they are using primary paper. Children this age need the visual structure this type of paper provides. Sometimes children are given wide-ruled paper too soon and this can be the cause of the problem. In addition to the visual guidelines primary paper provides, some kids need additional sensory input. There are many forms of modified paper that offer sensory input. Providing paper with color contrast and visuals assists children with learning how to orient letters on the line and letter placement skills. For example, the Smart Start paper featured below has a top blue line with a picture of the sun and clouds. This helps children with the placement of tall letters like t, l, and f. The baseline is green with a picture of a flower that represents grass. This helps children to learn that all letters need to be grounded on the baseline. Provide even more support by providing auditory cues like “tall letters start on the blue sky”. Some children need tactile input. Providing paper that offers raised lines allows kids to see and feel where letters should be placed on the line. Here are two of my favorite types of paper from Amazon.

Smart Start K-1 Writing Paper

Pacon Multi-Sensory Raised Ruled Tablet

These are just a few of the many types of adapted paper on the market to help kids with letter placement and written organization skills.


To further reinforce line orientation skills, you can have the child scan written material (their handwriting or any text). Ask them to draw a circle around or highlight a certain category of letters. For example, highlight all of the tall letters, or draw a circle around all of the “diver” letters. This will improve awareness of variations in letter size. It will also help with visual scanning skills.

Want to learn more on this topic? Check out these posts from my Handwriting Series:

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how-much-force-to-apply)

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Spacing

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

4 thoughts on “How to Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation

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