Cursive Handwriting Letter Families

This post is a comprehensive resource on cursive handwriting letter families. Did you know that teaching cursive letters in a series of similar letters can be helpful for kids who are just learning letter formation? Using groups of letters that are formed similarly makes them a letter family. So, when we use the motor plan required to form a cursive letter, we can help learners retain and use that cursive formation appropriately for legible handwriting when completing cursive writing. Let’s break down cursive letter families!

What are Letter Families

Letter families are related letters. Just like a family, letter families contain similar traits. These similarities might include the same starting point when forming a letter, similar lines that make up the letter, or other traits that make the letters easy to group. Letter families might include these traits:

  • Same starting point
  • Same initial pencil movement
  • Same connecting lines or ending pencil strokes
  • Similar movements within the letter, like bumps, slants, re-trace, etc.

When it comes to cursive letter families, this is a powerful teaching technique because we can break down the task of learning all uppercase and lower case cursive letters as we break down the task into chunks.

Teaching cursive letters in chunks can be helpful because many cursive letters are similar in formation either in starting lines or with components. Consider a lower case cursive letter “i”. The way the beginning line curves up and stops is similar to the start of a lower case cursive letter “t”.  

Letters like m, n, v, x, y, and z all start with a bump curve that starts from the baseline and curves up in an arch toward the middle line. 

Letters like e, l, h, b, f, and k all start with a loop.   

There are similarities in upper and lowercase cursive letters that indicate a need to teach letters in an order that takes cursive letter families into account.

Why use letter families to teach cursive

Cursive families and grouping letters by lines is an occupational therapy strategy that uses motor planning, muscle memory, and fine motor development to impact legible cursive writing.

Tricks to help with teaching cursive handwriting can make all the difference when it comes to carryover and legibility. Below, you will find information about teaching cursive handwriting and letters that are similar and should be taught together in groups for ease of learning.

You’ll discover more about cursive letter families below as well as more cursive writing strategies and tools here and in the How to Teach Cursive Writing series.

You can find all of the tips and strategies for teaching cursive handwriting under the handwriting tab up above.

Cursive letters fit into families because there are similarities in how letters are formed that can help kids learn to write in cursive.

 
 

Lowercase Cursive Letter Families

Lowercase cursive handwriting letter families are broken down by the writing strokes that start the letter. We’ve broken these letter groups into these types of starting strokes:
  1. Wave Letters
  2. Spike Letters
  3. Loop Letters
  4. Bump Letters
  5. Slant Letters
  6. Tow Truck Letters (based on the ending strokes or connecting strokes)

You can see that when we break cursive letters down into groups, it makes it easier for learners to learn and carryover the motor plan to form the letter because the letters that start similarly use the same small muscle movements.

Wave Letter Family

Wave letters are lowercase cursive letters that curve up from the baseline with a curve that follows the outside and left side of a circle. The curve traces back on itself to create a curve shape. Read here about specific strategies to teach Wave Letters.

Wave letters include lowercase cursive: c, a, d, g, q, and o.

 

Spike Letter Family 

Spike Letters are are lowercase cursive letters that curve up from the baseline with an inverted curve that follows the underside and right side of a circle. The curve traces back on itself for the strait portion of the letter, but then pulls away to either continue with additional components of the letter or to connect to subsequent letters. 
 
Spike letters include lowercase cursive: i, t, u, w, p, and j.
 

Loop Letter Family

Loop letters are lowercase cursive letters that begin with a loop from the baseline. These can be easy to learn at first : cursive e and cursive f are simple motor plans. But, the remaining loop letters contain re-traced lines, inverted lines that move back toward the middle line and then in the opposite direction (cursive k), and multi-loops (cursive f). 
 
Loop letters include: e, l, h b, k, and f.
 

Bump Letter Family

 
Bump letters are lowercase cursive letters that start from the baseline with a low curve on a 45 degree angle that peaks with a curved “bump” at the middle line.
 
Bump letters include: n, m, v, x, y, and z.
 

Slant Letter Family

Slant letters are lowercase cursive letters that start from the baseline and slant at a 45 degree angle without a curved portion at the direction change. 
 
Slant letters include: s and r.
 

Tow Truck Letter Family

Tow truck letters use terminology from the Handwriting Without Tears program and refers to the way the letter connects to another letter.
 
Another way to distinguish cursive letters even further is to identify tow truck letters. This term uses a verbal prompt from the Learning Without Tears handwriting program which identifies letters with a high connection point. The “tow truck letters” connect to subsequent letters in a word with a connector at the middle line rather than the baseline.
 
Tow Truck Letters include: o, v, w, and b.
 

Uppercase Cursive Letter Families

Upper case cursive letters can be hard to learn. Why? Because uppercase letters are not often used, especially as often as their lowercase relatives. An uppercase K may not be used often and it is easy to forget which way to make the starting lines or the mid-loops. 
 
We’ll break down uppercase cursive letters into groups, just like we did with the lowercase letters. 
 
Uppercase cursive letter families are broken down by starting point.
 

Right Curve Start Upper Case Cursive Letters

Right-Start Letters are uppercase cursive letters that start at the top line with a counter clockwise (or right curve) motion from the top line down to the baseline. 
 
Right Curve Start Letters include: A, C, O, Q, and E (Uppercase cursive letter E starts with a right curve to the middle line.)
 

Rocker Start Upper Case Cursive Letters

Rocker-Start uppercase cursive letters are those upper case letters that start with a small rocker motion to the top line.
 
Rocker start letters include: B, R, P, and L. 
 

Down Stroke Start Letters

Down-Stroke upper case cursive letters are uppercase cursive letters that start at the top line and move down.
 
Down stroke start letters include: D, T, F, U, Y, V, and W.
 

Left Loop Start Letters

Left-Loop start letters are uppercase cursive letters that begin with a small loop start at the top left side of the letter. 
 
Left loop start letters include: H, K, M, N, X, and W.
 

Slant Start Upper Case Cursive Letters

Slant start cursive are uppercase cursive letters that start at the baseline and slant up to the top line at a 45 degree angle. 
 
Slant start letters include: G and S.
 

Left Curve Up Start Cursive Upper Case

Left Curve Up start letters are uppercase cursive letters start at the baseline and curve up to the left side. They start of the opposite side than the rest of the upper case cursives. This can be a difficult start for some learners, especially if these letters are not used often.
 
Left curve up start letters include: I and J.
 

Other Upper Case Cursive

Uppercase cursive letter Z doesn’t seem to fit into any of these categories! That is to say: all of these cursive letter starts depend on the font. Occupational therapy practitioners tend to teach simple writing strokes to reduce the motor plan and to improve carryover. So, it is possible to group Z into another group, including the Slant Start Letters or Left Loop Start Letters.

 
 

What order to teach cursive Letter families?

When it comes down to it, having a specific order of uppercase and lowercase cursive letters doesn’t matter hugely. It is much more important to teach letters in their family chunks for ease. That being said, you do need to start somewhere when it comes to starting to teach cursive letters. So where to begin?

It’s also a great idea to teach letters that are similar in look or formation to their printed counterpart.  

There are so many different cursive letter curriculum out there without a clear letter sequence so it’s truly up to the instructor. Consider the benefits of teaching cursive letters in their letter family clusters. Here is one list of recommended cursive letter order for ease of instruction.    

For explicit instruction, use the suggested order to teach cursive letters listed on this handout.

How to Teach Cursive Families

Teach Cursive Letter Families with Picture Frames!

This post contains affiliate links.


Use the cursive letter order descriptions to create family photos like we did. Use these in the classroom to teach kids about how the letters are related in formation. We used just a few items to create family photos for cursive letters:

To make teaching cursive with a cursive letter family fun and “stick” try this memorable activity.

Cut the cardstock to fit the frames. Add a small piece of tape to keep the cardstock in place. Write the groups of cursive letters on the cardstock. Fit the paper into the frames.

Use these frames to teach common cursive letter families. Place them on desks or tables in the classroom or home and refer to cursive families during instruction.

Cursive letters fit into families because there are similarities in how letters are formed that can help kids learn to write in cursive.

  Need help with the underlying skills needed for handwriting? Start here on our Handwriting resources page.  

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

cursive letter families