How to Teach Pre-Writing Skills Using Explicit Direct Instruction  

Written by Stefan

June 13, 2024

Understanding Pre-Writing Skills

Pre-writing skills are the bedrock of a child’s ability to write. Early development of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and pencil grip is crucial. For example, fine motor activities like cutting with scissors, stringing beads, and manipulating playdough help children develop the strength and control needed for writing. Practical activities like these are essential, as they lay the groundwork for children to form letters accurately and efficiently. 

The Role of Explicit Direct Instruction

Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) is a powerful method for teaching pre-writing skills. Its structured approach ensures that learning objectives are clear and the path to achieving them is straightforward. EDI’s step-by-step guidance builds student confidence through scaffolded support and practice. This method involves clearly defined goals, direct teaching, guided practice, and independent practice. The clarity and structure of EDI reduce confusion and frustration, making the learning process smoother and more enjoyable for young learners. 

Aligning with Curriculum Standards

Aligning pre-writing instruction with the Australian Curriculum ensures that teaching is both effective and meets national educational standards. By integrating pre-writing skills into the curriculum framework, teachers can ensure that activities are purposeful and geared towards meeting specific educational milestones. This strategic alignment helps in systematically developing skills that are critical for later academic success, providing a coherent pathway from early learning to more advanced writing tasks. 

Setting Learning Goals and Objectives

Setting clear, measurable learning goals is essential for effective teaching. For pre-writing skills, this means identifying specific objectives that students need to achieve. These objectives should be tailored to the individual needs and abilities of each student, ensuring they are both challenging and attainable. Examples of specific learning objectives for pre-writing skills include: 

  • Developing a proper pencil grip 
  • Tracing and copying basic shapes and lines 
  • Improving hand-eye coordination through targeted activities 
  • Strengthening fine motor skills through manipulative play 

By setting these objectives, teachers provide a clear roadmap for students’ learning journeys. This helps focus instruction and allows for the tracking of progress and the identification of areas where additional support may be needed. 

Strategies for Teaching Pre-Writing Skills Using EDI

Preparing the Learning Environment 

Creating a conducive learning environment is the first step in teaching pre-writing skills. This involves setting up a space that is both functional and engaging. Classrooms should be equipped with a variety of materials, such as paper, pencils, markers, and manipulatives like playdough and beads. One unique insight is the importance of a print-rich environment. Displaying letters, shapes, and patterns around the room provides constant visual stimuli that can reinforce learning. 

Another key aspect is the use of multi-sensory materials. Research shows that sensory experiences can significantly enhance learning. Incorporating tactile materials, such as sandpaper letters or textured mats, can help children better understand shapes and letters through touch. These materials not only make learning more engaging but also cater to different learning styles. 

Teaching Fine Motor Skills 

Developing fine motor skills is essential for pre-writing. Practical activities that focus on small muscle movements are highly effective. For example, using tweezers to pick up small objects or threading beads on a string can significantly improve hand strength and coordination. One unique strategy is to incorporate everyday objects into these activities. Tasks like opening and closing jars, or using clothespins, can provide meaningful and functional practice. 

In addition to traditional exercises, incorporating technology can be beneficial. Interactive apps and games designed to improve fine motor skills can provide children with fun and engaging ways to practice. These tools often offer immediate feedback, which is crucial for reinforcing correct techniques. 

Developing Hand-Eye Coordination 

Hand-eye coordination is another critical component of pre-writing skills. Activities that require visual tracking and precise hand movements, such as tracing shapes or drawing lines, are essential. A unique approach is to use vertical surfaces for practice. Drawing on whiteboards or chalkboards, or even painting on easels, can help improve coordination and control. Working on vertical surfaces can also strengthen shoulder and arm muscles, which are important for overall writing endurance. 

Incorporating games that involve hand-eye coordination, such as catching and throwing balls or playing with building blocks, can also be effective. These activities are not only enjoyable but also provide valuable practice in a less formal setting. 

Pencil Grip and Hand Positioning 

Proper pencil grip and hand positioning are crucial for writing efficiency and comfort. One effective strategy is to use adaptive tools like pencil grips or weighted pencils. These tools can help children develop a correct grip from the start, reducing the likelihood of developing bad habits. 

Demonstrating the correct grip and hand positioning is essential. Using visual aids, such as posters or videos, can reinforce these concepts. Additionally, one-on-one instruction during guided practice sessions allows for immediate correction and support. Regular practice with proper guidance ensures that children develop the muscle memory needed for a consistent and comfortable grip. 

Structured Practice Sessions 

Structured practice sessions are a hallmark of EDI. These sessions should follow a clear sequence: demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice. During demonstration, teachers should model the skill, providing clear and concise instructions. Guided practice involves working with students, offering support and feedback as they attempt the skill themselves. Independent practice allows students to apply what they have learned on their own, solidifying their skills. 

A unique insight here is the importance of gradual progression. Start with simple tasks and gradually increase complexity as students become more proficient. This approach not only builds confidence but also ensures that each student progresses at a pace that is appropriate for their skill level. 

Practical Activities and Exercises for Pre-Writing Skills

Tracing and Drawing 

Tracing and drawing are fundamental activities for developing pre-writing skills. Start with basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. Use tracing worksheets and stencils to guide students. A unique approach is to use high-contrast colours and thick lines, which make it easier for young eyes to follow the patterns. 

For a more interactive experience, consider using apps or tablets that allow children to trace shapes and letters with their fingers or styluses. These digital tools often include instant feedback and engaging graphics, which can make practice sessions more enjoyable and effective. 

Copying and Imitating 

Copying and imitating are essential for developing accuracy and control. Begin with simple lines and shapes before progressing to more complex patterns and letters. One effective method is to use dotted lines or guide marks that children can follow. As their skills improve, reduce the amount of guidance provided. 

Incorporating copy work into daily routines can also be beneficial. For instance, ask children to copy their names, simple words, or short sentences. This not only reinforces pre-writing skills but also integrates them with literacy development. Using whiteboards for these exercises can add a fun, erasable element to the practice. 

Letter Formation and Recognition 

Teaching correct letter formation is crucial for writing fluency. Introduce letters in groups based on similar strokes (e.g., letters that start with a vertical line). This helps children understand and remember the patterns. Use large motor activities, like skywriting or forming letters with their bodies, to reinforce learning through physical movement. 

Incorporating phonics into letter writing can enhance both writing and reading skills. Activities like writing letters in sand or shaving cream can make the process tactile and engaging. Additionally, use visual aids like alphabet charts and letter cards to support recognition and formation. 

Sensory and Tactile Activities 

Sensory experiences can significantly enhance pre-writing skills. Using materials like sand, rice, or clay for tracing and writing provides a multi-sensory approach that helps children understand shapes and letters through touch. Create tactile letters and shapes using materials like yarn or foam to add a new dimension to learning. 

Incorporate sensory play into your daily routine. For example, set up a sensory table where children can trace letters in a tray of sand or form shapes with playdough. These activities not only build fine motor skills but also make learning fun and engaging. 

Play-Based Learning 

Integrating pre-writing skills into play is highly effective. Activities like drawing in sand, using finger paints, or playing with magnetic letters combine fun with learning. Play-based learning allows children to explore and practice skills in a less structured environment, which can be particularly beneficial for young learners. 

Imaginative play can also support pre-writing development. Encourage children to play “school” or “office,” where they can practice writing in a context that feels meaningful and enjoyable. Structured play activities, like setting up a post office where children write and deliver letters, provide practical applications for their skills. 

Assessment and Feedback for Pre-Writing Skills

Formative Assessment Techniques 

Effective assessment is key to monitoring and guiding student progress. Formative assessments allow teachers to gather real-time data on student performance and adjust instruction accordingly. One practical approach is to use observational checklists. These checklists can track specific skills such as pencil grip, tracing accuracy, and hand-eye coordination. 

Another valuable tool is the use of work samples and student portfolios. By regularly collecting and reviewing these samples, teachers can identify patterns of improvement or areas needing further attention. Digital portfolios, where students’ work is photographed or scanned, provide an easily accessible record of progress over time. 

Providing Effective Feedback 

Providing timely and specific feedback is crucial for reinforcing correct techniques and encouraging improvement. Feedback should be immediate, focusing on both what the student is doing well and what needs adjustment. For instance, rather than just saying “good job,” you might say, “Great job holding your pencil correctly! Next, let’s try to keep your lines straight.” 

In addition to verbal feedback, visual aids can be effective. Using stickers, stamps, or highlighting to mark areas of success or improvement can give students a clear, visual representation of their progress. Encouraging self-assessment and peer feedback can also foster a supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. 

Adapting Instruction Based on Assessment 

Assessment data should inform instructional decisions. If a student struggles with a particular skill, such as maintaining the correct pencil grip, teachers can adapt their instruction to provide additional support in that area. This might involve more targeted practice, using adaptive tools, or breaking the skill down into smaller, more manageable steps. 

Differentiating activities to meet diverse student needs is also essential. For example, students who have mastered basic shapes might progress to more complex patterns, while those needing more practice might continue with simpler exercises. Implementing targeted interventions ensures that all students receive the support they need to succeed. 

Tracking Progress and Celebrating Success 

Tracking student progress is vital for maintaining motivation and ensuring continuous improvement. Setting milestones and tracking achievements can provide students with a sense of accomplishment. Use charts or graphs to visually represent progress, which can be a powerful motivator for young learners. 

Celebrating small victories is just as important as recognising major milestones. Praise and rewards, such as certificates or a special activity, can reinforce positive behaviour and effort. Sharing progress with parents and caregivers also helps to create a supportive network around the child, enhancing their confidence and motivation. 

Reflecting on Teaching Practices 

Self-reflection is an essential part of teaching. Regularly reflecting on your instructional practices can help you identify what is working well and what might need adjustment. Consider keeping a teaching journal to document your strategies, observations, and reflections. 

Gathering student feedback is also valuable. Simple surveys or informal conversations can provide insights into how students perceive their learning experiences. Additionally, collaborating with colleagues can lead to the sharing of best practices and new ideas. Peer observations and team planning sessions can be particularly beneficial for continuous improvement. 


Teaching pre-writing skills using EDI is a powerful approach that ensures young learners develop the foundational abilities they need for successful writing. By preparing a conducive learning environment, employing targeted strategies, and using practical activities, teachers can effectively support their students’ development. Assessing progress and providing timely feedback further enhance the learning experience, ensuring that each child progresses at their own pace. 

To make the most of these strategies, we invite you to explore the wealth of free classroom-ready resources offered by Good to Great Schools Australia (GGSA). These resources are meticulously designed based on EDI and aligned with the Australian Curriculum, ensuring that they meet educational standards and provide maximum value for your teaching practice. 

Signing up for these resources is easy and free. By doing so, you’ll gain access to hundreds of materials that can help you implement these strategies effectively in your classroom. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to enhance your teaching toolkit and support your students in developing essential pre-writing skills. 

Join GGSA today and start exploring these invaluable resources. Together, we can make a significant impact on early childhood education and set our students on the path to academic success. 

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