Making a Case for Lowercase

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is much debated. Proponents of upper case contend that:

  1. Uppercase is developmentally more appropriate because the letters are easier to form.
  2. Uppercase letters are easier to recognize.
  3. The transition from upper case to lower case is easy.

Are uppercase letters easier to form?

Let’s consider four elements:

1. Starting Points

Having fewer starting points simplifies the decision on where to start. All the capital letters start at the top. Lowercase letters primarily begin at the midline. The exceptions being b, h, k, l, and t which start at the top, and letters e and f. This factor favors uppercase as being easier to learn.

2. Pencil lifts

Each pencil lift requires careful visual monitoring and precise motor skills to neatly place the pencil at the start of the next stroke. Seventeen upper letters require two or more lifts compared to seven lowercase letters. Uppercase “E”, for example, has four strokes, requiring one to lift and place the pencil at four different points. Lowercase “e” uses one continuous stroke, which requires less visual attention, and makes it easier and more efficient to form. This suggests that lowercase letters are easier to form.

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is much debated. But did you know that 95% of all letters in reading and writing are in lowercase? Read on to find out why it is important to teach lowercase letters to students first.

3. Diagonal lines

Children learn to draw the first six pre-writing shapes, in the following developmental order: a vertical line, a horizontal line, a circle, a cross, a square, and finally a diagonal line. Accordingly, letters containing diagonals are the hardest to form. Nine uppercase letters contain diagonal lines in contrast to six lowercase ones. This measure also points to lowercase letters as being easier to write.

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4. Letter Groups

Sorting letters by their first stroke and practicing them in their “group” is a highly effective way of learning to write the letters.  The repetition of the same continuous motion from one letter to the next builds motor memory and promotes rhythmic writing.

Lowercase letters have multiple strokes in common and are easily sorted into four kinesthetic groups:

  1. l, t, k, I and j all start with a vertical line downward
  2. c, a, d, o, g and q all start like c
  3. h, b, r, n, m and p all drop down, up and over
  4. v, w, x and y all start with a diagonal line down

Letters s, u, f, e and z do share a common stroke with the other letters.

Upper case letters have two kinesthetic groups:

  1. C, O, Q and G all start like C
  2. V, W, X and Y start with a diagonal line down

B, D, E, F, H, I, J, K, L M, N, P, R, T, and U all start with a down stroke. However, given that they do not share a similar motion beyond this point to guide correct stroke direction, makes it hard to unify them into kinesthetic group. Letters A, S and Z do not share a common stroke with other letters.

Are uppercase letters easier to recognize?

Several lowercase letters are similar in appearance, most notably letters b, d, p, g and q, as well as h and n; making them easier to confuse.  Regardless, young students who are learning to read, read in lowercase.  And for children who struggle with visually-confusing letters, more practice, not less, would be helpful. Aligning handwriting with reading stands to boost a student’s ability to identify these letters, especially if the child is a kinesthetic learner. Teaching uppercase simply delays the teaching of lowercase or worse, creates more confusion by adding more letters to the mix.

It is also interesting to note that lowercase words are easier to read. Jason Santa Maria’s article, “How We Read”, explains that this is because we see words as shapes. Lowercase has ascenders and descenders that form irregular shapes, and make it easier to identify the words, whereas capitals appear as “big rectangular blocks which take much longer to process”.

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is much debated. But did you know that 95% of all letters in reading and writing are in lowercase? Read on to find out why it is important to teach lowercase letters to students first.

Is it easy for students to transition from upper to lower case?

There is a large variance in how well students adapt to lowercase letters after learning uppercase. For students who are predisposed to handwriting difficulties and have been taught uppercase first, I have found that they confuse the two alphabets and tend to be very resistant to switching from upper to lowercase. Apart from affecting overall legibility, mixing upper and lowercase, or using upper case only, is inefficient and results in slow, tedious writing.

When asked to weigh in on the letter case debate, Dave Thompson, CEO of Educational Fontware, and designer of over 900 fonts said, “Lowercase is definitely easier.  Most of the letters are a lot shorter, which involves less movement of the hand for the little ones.  There are fewer pen lifts, and much more similarity between smalls (a, c, d, e, g, o, q for example all start with or have a counterclockwise hook) than caps. Lowercase uses retrace without pen lift for b, d, h, m, n, p, and r.  Caps are usually taught as pen lifts instead of retrace: B, D, M, N, P, and R. Finally, you can make words out of the smalls, but not the caps.”

To close, since less and less instructional time is being spent on handwriting, it is becoming even more important to prioritize the script that students need for functional writing tasks. And, since lowercase letters account for about 95% of all letters in reading and writing, I would urge you to teach lowercase first!

References

Maria, Jason Santa. “How We Read.” A List Apart, 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. Retrieved from http://alistapart.com/article/how-we-readhttp://alistapart.com/article/how-we-read

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is much debated. But did you know that 95% of all letters in reading and writing are in lowercase? Read on to find out why it is important to teach lowercase letters to students first.



1 Comment

  • Jessica Sager

    This is such a fascinating post! My seven year old is autistic, with no significant verbal delays (would’ve been diagnosed as an aspie prior to current DSM) He started reading at 4, and was reading at a third grade level in kindergarten (maybe higher, since he scored 100%). He has a remarkable ability to recognize patterns and assemble seemingly unrelated parts, whether objects or concepts. I think that’s how he came to read so early, he was intensely interested in words and punctuation and would recognize them everywhere. Shortly thereafter he started reading to himself. He learned to write the same way, by remembering how words look, but was very adverse to any suggestion of writing a certain way – we just let him be, considering he wasn’t yet five! He wrote exclusively in uppercase and this continues to be an issue for him in class. His teacher, bless her wisdom, wants to focus on building his stamina and work completion before enforcing proper case usage. It’s given him the space to choose the proper case on his own, though he struggles with remembering.

    You mentioned something about the visual coordination required in handwriting, and it occurred to me that he probably needs more support in how to form the letters to begin with. He had significant issues with behavior and anxiety last year (kinder) so acedemics (like how to form letters!) were not high on the list. I wonder if he would benefit from practicing letters how you mentioned, in groups that are formed with similar movements. I know he already struggles with converting the ideas in his head into letters on a page, never mind how those letters are formed! (He’s also been intentionally misspelling words, in an attempt to see how well his teacher can spell…but that’s a different matter. It’s busy in his head!) Removing the pressure of language content (if I’m using the right verbiage) may make it less daunting.

    I found your website through your TpT store! I can’t wait to try out your products!

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