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Adult Literacy

Exercises for beginners who are unfamiliar with the Roman Alphabet

Basic Handwriting

Handwriting: 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08

Click HERE for Handwriting Worksheet Maker. There is also a Quick Worksheet Maker where you can input just the learner's name or a short phrase such as "the quick brown fox". Another useful practice site is Basic Handwriting for Kids.

Basic Reading

Reading: 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

Basic Spelling & Phonology

Spelling & Phonics: 16 | 17

Graded readers [300 to 600 headwords]

Click here to see a list of published readers suitable for beginners


For further help with the design of adult literacy materials, see:


Guidance for Teachers


Published books

  1. "The BBC Adult Literacy Handbook" - edited by Chris Longley [94 pages: BBC 1975]
  2. "BBC Writing and Spelling" edited by Catherine Moorehouse [96 pages: BBC 1979]
  3. "Teaching English as a Second Language" - Sandra Nicholls & Julia Naish [96 pages: BBC 1981]
  4. "Adult Literacy: A Handbook for Development Workers" - planning a small-scale teaching & literacy programme [185 pages: Oxfam Academic 1995]
  5. "The Phonics Handbook" (photocopiable)- for teaching reading, writing & spelling to young children, by Sue Lloyd [218 pages: Jolley Learning 1992]
  6. "The Child and the English Language Arts(p245-286 are on 'Handwriting') by Mildred R. Donoghue [474 pages : W.C. Brown 1989]
  7. "Parents' Guide To Handwriting" - by Christopher Jarman [28 pages]
  8. "The Development of Handwriting Skills": A Resource Book for Teachers by Christopher Jarman [136 pages]

Designing handwriting practice materials for your learners

Free handwriting fonts (Windows XP) for private or educational use only

Instructions for Windows XP users: create a new folder for the downloads on your computer's hard disk (e.g. HANDWRITING) before clicking on the download links below:

  1. Jarman handwriting font: description | DOWNLOAD Jarman.zip
    an Italic manuscript font designed to be used with Christopher Jarman's handwriting scheme for schools.
  2. Jardotty (Christopher Jarman's) dotted handwriting font: description | DOWNLOAD JARDOTTY_Repaired.TTF
    an Italic manuscript font with a tiny arrow to show where to start and in which direction to write when tracing the letters.

After the Jarman.zip has downloaded, right click with your mouse on the icon of the zip file and select 'Extract All'. Then select the extracted 'Jarman TT icon (TrueType Font File)' and copy it into C:/WINDOWS/FONTS. You will now be able to select, size and use the Jarman handwriting font within Windows based word processing applications (e.g. Microsoft Word).

The Jardotty dotted handwriting font is offered as a Zip download on a few Internet sites, but the TrueType font has been corrupted and cannot be copied into C:/WINDOWS/FONTS. The second download listed above (JARDOTTY_Repaired.TTF) is the repaired file for this TrueType Font. It does not need to be extracted from a Zip file and the download should copy straight into the folder with all your other fonts (e.g. C:/WINDOWS/FONTS) without any problems.

School web site design

If web page designers specify fonts in their code which Internet users have not got on their own computer systems, then font display will revert to a normal font i.e. one which is not intended.

One way round this is to embed a dedicated handwriting font such as JARMAN or JARDOTTY as a layer of TEXT within a GRAPHIC IMAGE.

To do this, choose FILE and NEW within a graphics application such as Adobe's Photoshop Elements. The default setting is usually a white background. Set the WIDTH as 9 inches, the HEIGHT as 0.5 inches and the RESOLUTION at 72 dots per inch. This will give you a white strip i.e. a graphic image into which you can embed a layer of text. Select the TEXT icon and set your handwriting Fonts (e.g. Jarman 30 point or Jardotty 24 point) within the graphics application where your white strip is displayed. Add just one line of text. Select 'FILE' and 'Save for Web' and save as a low-quality JPG file. To produce the graphic content for a handwriting web page which will print onto a single sheet of A4, you will need no more than seven of these strips or graphic images, each with one line of text (in your handwriting font) embedded.

7 lines of text is quite enough to occupy learners in need of basic handwriting practice for a good session. With well modelled materials, handwriting practices become fit to offer learners. Teachers then have a case for insisting on legibility and neatness.

Monitoring handwriting sessions

Learners who are already literate are often set written tasks for homework. However, practice in basic literacy needs to be closely watched by the teacher. Class-time is essential at this stage since a lot of guidance is needed to prevent inefficient habits from developing. Points to insist on:

  1. The formation and direction of the letters: all letters are made with circles, part circles and straight lines. All vertical and all straight lines start at the top. Form the vertical lines of a letter before putting in the horizontal ones (horizontal movements go from left to right). Circles or parts of circles which are made in an anticlockwise direction begin at the two o'clock position (proceeding to the left), while circles or parts of circles which are made in a clockwise direction begin at the ten o'clock position (proceeding to the right). Note that teaching learners to write their names in capital letters (or whole words not normally produced in upper case letters) is considered damaging to handwriting later on. Most copying tasks should involve mainly lower case letters. Use upper case letters according to the normal rules of capitalization and at no greater frequency.
  2. The spacing &/or joins between letters and the space between words: the web site at www.handwritingworksheets.com allows you to tailor your own practice materials, helping with handwriting by offering learners guidelines to letter formation, orientation and spacing. Skeleton alphabets are often used as the model for early handwriting practice. However, note that some educationalists recommend that schools lead towards a 'cursive handwriting style' from the very first lessons.
  3. The height of letters: tall letters such as 'b', 'f', 'h', 'k' and 'l' should be about twice the height of small letters such as c, e and o. Medium sized letters such as d and t should be in between. There are arguments for using plain paper with young children attempting to form the letters of the alphabet for the fist time; correct penhold, hand movement and orientation pose a sufficient challenge. A little later, ruled guidelines can be used to indicate the positioning and relative sizes of the letters. Such guidelines are printed in many published handwriting workbooks. You can also generate and print this stationery (complete with copying task!) by entering a word or a short phrase in the input box at www.handwritingworksheets.com. When printing these worksheets, it is often best to select 'Landscape' as your page orientation, especially if you have entered a short phrase as opposed to a single word of text. Take care if you are drawing the guidelines yourself. If you place them too close together (as found in narrowly ruled exercise books) you may be cramping your learners' handwriting. Space them too far apart and you could slow handwriting down and make it unnecessarily untidy, as your learners unnaturally stretch their upper case letters to meet your upper guideline. These guiding features commonly consist of 'continuous parallel guidelines' defining the optimum height of upper case and tall lower case letters. The space between these continuous guidelines is important. If they are too close together (as found in narrowly ruled exercise books), this may result in cramped handwriting, while if these lines are too far apart handwriting speed will be unnecessarily slowed if learners feel they have to stretch their upper case letters to meet the top line.
  4. The use of Guidelines (i.e. ruled lines) (as found in handwriting workbooks): a straight 'dotted guideline' is often included, usually running half-way between the continuous parallel ones. In many handwriting schemes, the space between this 'dotted line' and 'the lower of the two continuous parallel lines' defines any of the following:
    • the optimum height of the rounded part of lower-case letters (b c d e g h m n o p q s)
    • the vertical length (before dotting) of letters such as 'i' and 'j'
    • the place for crossing letters such as 'f' and 't'
    • the height of lower case letters such as u, v, w, x, y and z.
  5. The lower strokes of lower case letters such as g, j, p, q and y are positioned below the lower of the two continuous parallel guidelines.
  6. The alignment and slant of letters: while letters leaning in different directions reduce legibility, keeping all downstrokes parallel helps to improves it.
  7. Learners need some practice in the recognition of handwritten text. Once that they have been exposed to good samples of other people's handwriting, additional practice might include deciphering badly formed handwriting and recognising the obstacles to legibility. However, for the purpose of teaching reading, the school web site should contain the common fonts seen in books, newspapers, other printed materials and on general web sites. So common today is the use of word processors and machines for texting friends, that apart from the teacher's handwriting on the white board, reading handwritten text has become a lower requirement for every day survival and academic study. It is notable that many of the best handwriting schemes available today, date from earlier decades when the use of computer technology played a lesser part in both adult ELT and the Primary School curriculum. It is a fortunate paradox - and one which has encouraged me to improve the materials and links on this site - that computers play a useful role in providing access to resources which can be used to teach and improve handwriting.


    Published handwriting practice materials

    For adults (also suitable for most teenagers)

    1. "Start By Writing" - suitable for Arabic language backgrounds - John Naunton [88 pages: Longman 1985]
    2. "Basic Handwriting in English" - suitable for Arabic language backgrounds - Bernard Hartley & Peter Viney [62 pages: Nelson 1982]
    3. "Handwriting: Work Book" - Bright and Piggot [32 pages: Cambridge 1976]
    4. "Handwriting: Teachers Book" - Bright and Piggot [34 pages: Cambridge 1976]
    5. "Practical Punctuation" - Ian Gordon [80 pages Heinemann 1978]
    6. "Collins Good Punctuation" - Graham King [192 pages: Collins 2004]

    For young learners (aged 12 to 16)

    1. "Rainbow 2000: Beginning Handwriting Skills" - young learners within an Arabic-world context [24 pages: Macmillan ELT 1991]
    2. "English Punctuation" (Usborne Better) - well illustrated rules and practice for young learners aged 12 to 16 [32 pages: Usborne 2003]

    For small children (aged 5 and 6)---------including early reading / synthetic phonics

    1. Handwriting Skills: Copybooks 1 to 6 (Paperback 1994) by Christopher Jarman [32 pages: Nelson Thornes Ltd 1994]
    2. "Learn Cursive Writing" - Jillian Harker & Geraldine Taylor [32 pages: Ladybird 1994] - National Curriculum English Stage 1 (children)
    3. "Learn Reading Skills" - Jillian Harker & Geraldine Taylor [32 pages: Ladybird 1994] - National Curriculum English Stage 1 (children)
    4. "Learn Phonic Spelling" - Jillian Harker & Geraldine Taylor [32 pages: Ladybird 1994] - National Curriculum English Stage 1 (children)
    5. "Oxford Reading Tree: Stages 1 to 6: Songbirds Phonics" by Julia Donaldson. Pack (6 bookseach Stage for , 1 of each title)
    6. "Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 1" - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1988 ]
    7. "American Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 1" - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1990 ]
    8. "Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 2" - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1988 ]
    9. "American Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 2" - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1990 ]

    Are you equipped to teach a child or an adult basic reading skills?

    • How many phonemes (vowel and consonant sounds) are there in the English language? Does your child's teacher know this?
      Answer: see English Phoneme Chart (A teacher who does not know this, will not have measured the challenge of learning to read)
    • What is the first phoneme (a vowel sound) in the word "equipped"?
      Answer: phoneme number 01 (see English Phoneme Chart)
    • What is the last phoneme (a consonant sound) in the word "equipped"?
      Answer: phoneme number 23 (see English Phoneme Chart)
    • Underline where the vowel sound in the word "pin" occurs in the following words:
      ill England women pretty Ceylon myth build baggage bargain marriage sieve counterfeit
      Answer: (see phoneme number 01 English Phonemes and Variant Spellings)

    Is it worth using phonics to teach reading when so many of the English sounds can be represented by a variety of spellings?

    Two research projects conducted in 1966 focusing on American English suggest "yes":
    1. Paul R. Hanna et al., Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office)
    2. Richard L. Venezky and Ruth H. Weir. A Study of Selected Spelling-to-Sound Correspondence Patterns. (Cooperative Research Project No. 3090. Stanford University. Cal).

    These studies established that American English orthography is alphabetically based at least eighty per cent of the time and that the unit phoneme-grapheme correspondences can be predicted upon sound bases alone about ninety per cent of the time.

    Computational linguistics has grown of age since the above studies were conducted. It is not difficult now to do your own research, using either British or American English phonemes and spellings as given in either the "Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (17th Edition)" or the "Longman Pronunciation Dictionary" both with interactive CDs which allow 'wildcard searches for spellings', based on combinations of phonemes. You can test out any phoneme in any possible position in the word for variant spellings, and assess the difficulty of reading the target sound correctly.

    Should the method of teaching reading be limited to phonics?

    Clearly not, and authors of reading schemes such as "Oxford Reading Tree Songbirds Phonics" are far more eclectic in their methodology.

    For example, the phonics focus of Stage 6: Songbirds: "Paula the Vet" is the sound as in the first syllable of the word "August". However, "Paula The Vet" includes practice of the sound using the variant spellings "or", "au", "aw", "ore", "oor" and "a".

    Recognising 'whole words' visually (look and say methodology) plays a significant part in learning to read, especially as reading speed becomes greater. However, it remains the case, nearly always, that the phonetic and graphetic environments of 'single letters' or 'combinations of letters' making single sounds, provide excellent clues to the target sound.

    What may go wrong educationally and socially if phonics is continued for too long?

    Firstly, reading aloud is a very limited representation of the skill of reading. For the most part, reading is done silently. A 'sub-vocaliser' is usually going to be a slow and inefficient reader, and may prove to be an annoyance to peers who wish to read in silence.

    Phonics is often practised with single words. If words connect to make a longer text, the latter is usually a story or something which allows a linear reading-style.

    To read aloud well, a learner needs to be aware of the differences between the 'spoken' and 'written' channels. Spoken English involves features such as assimilation where the choice of phoneme used at the end of particular words depends on the phoneme beginning the next word. In these instances, phonics can badly mislead, resulting in stilted speech.

    To read aloud well, also requires the use of syllable & sentence stress and intonation. Phonics may allow some success in reading aloud in a syllable-timed language such as Spanish. However, in the context of a stress-timed language such as English, phonics may result in disastrous pronunciation. Learners (e.g. adults) who may not have already spent the first five years of their lives immersed in the oral part of the target language, should not depend on phonics as a guide to how the language is spoken.

    An efficient and flexible silent-reader looks beyond individual words and sentences and will be familiar with discourse markers and methods of topic development within paragraphs. Different reasons for reading affect anticipation and bring different reference skills into play. Reading 'a menu' or 'a bus timetable' differs considerably from the linear treatment given to a story text. Reading styles are several and need to be sensitive to purpose, content, text-type and layout.

    Phonics may help a learner to decipher content in the very early part of the literacy programme. However, excessive focus on phonemes as components within words, especially if weak forms go unrecognised, has a very limited amount to do with 'the skill of reading' and provides a misleading and stilted model for oral production.

    There are very good reasons to 'read aloud' to children. It is a step towards interesting them in books and 'radio & tv broadcasts with literary content'. Phonics has very little to do with the value of reading aloud. Adults reading to their children would do best to focus on the features of spoken English: sounds, weak forms, rhythms, contractions, sentence stress, placement of the tonic syllable, tunes etc. The actors who undertake audio-book recordings are usually able to adopt different voices for different characters. Those telling stories on children's TV can give plenty of play to gesture and facial expression, which also help to make a story.


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