Teaching Practical Skills: How to Read Handwriting

A real challenge in language learning can be dealing with handwritten text. This is especially true for students whose languages use another alphabet or system of characters. Students may feel confident reading printed text, but their comfort level can significantly drop when the text is written by hand. Despite the fact that we live in the computer age and much of our written correspondence involves a keyboard, there are still times when we must read others’ handwriting. For instance, I still ask my husband (a native Russian) to help me read birthday cards and wishes for the New Year when Russian family and friends write to us. Sometimes I cannot read the most basic words because I can’t figure out the sender’s handwriting!

Here are two fun games that teach a practical skill: how to read handwriting.

GAME No.1 – Finding Common Ground [intermediate – advanced]

Have a few friends or acquaintances who are native English speakers handwrite a short text describing their personalities and/or lifestyles. Limit them to 5-7 lines.* Be sure to get a mix of printing and longhand. Compile and photocopy these texts. Distribute them to your students. Have them read the texts in pairs first. Then read them as a class, clarifying as needed. Students can then work in pairs again and discuss which text most closely describes their own personality or lifestyle.

*Model:                 I’m a very active person. I don’t like to sit at home, and if I am at home I’m probably trying to do at least two things at once. I come from a small family, but I have a large circle of friends. I love city life, and all that goes with it: theater, museums, and restaurants. I enjoy parties, too.


GAME No.2 – Proverbs as Discussion Starters [intermediate – advanced]

Ask a few native speakers to handwrite about ten proverbs of your choosing. Many native speakers naturally use a combination of longhand and printing, but you may need to ask your friends to avoid using all printed letters as the cursive letters tend to be the more challenging ones. Compile the proverbs, selecting the writing samples that are most difficult to read. Have students work in small groups. Assign two or three proverbs to each group. The students must read the proverbs and try to interpret them. After about ten minutes, bring the class back together. Each group must read their assigned proverbs and share their interpretations with the class. Allow for discussion and illustration of the proverbs.  As follow-up, you can ask each student to translate a proverb from his or her native language and write it out by hand. Post these handwritten proverbs for everyone to read. (Be sure to include the country of origin.)



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