Use a Timer to Work on Writing Speed

Many times, school-based OTs are asked about normal writing speed. Just how fast should kids be writing and how can you improve writing speed while maintaining legibility? This super easy handwriting trick is one that can be done right now.  Pick up your phone, turn on the timer app and start practicing handwriting. Read on for a writing speed activity that you can work on any time.

How to use a timer to improve writing speed and maintain handwriting legibility.

Writing Speed Activity

Using a timer to help with reaching a normal writing speed (or FUNCTIONAL writing speed) while maintaining legible letter formation is one way that kids can develop consistency with correct letter formation, speed, and accuracy.

Remember that the main goal is functional handwriting legibility when completing writing tasks independently.  

Related, is this resource on a functional pencil grasp, as pencil grasp can also suffer when writers are rushed to complete a writing task. But the main thing to keep in mind is:

  • Is the written sample legible?
  • Is the written sample completed within a reasonable amount of time?
  • Is the written work illegible when required to be written in a specific amount of time?

Remember that when writing in a faster time (as when copying notes that are on a digital slide deck and the material must be copied before the next slide is shown) it is expected that proper letter formation suffers.

Think about the last time you quickly jotted down a phone number. Did the numbers look different than your normal handwriting? Young writers are the same way, but as long as the written work is legible, we are good to go!

How to use a timer to help kids work on letter formation, handwriting skills, legibility, speed, and accuracy of written work.

How to Use a Timer to Help with Writing Speed

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Students who are working on handwriting are often times addressing letter formation skills.

The ability to construct letters stems from a top to bottom approach and in correct letter formation order.  For example, a child should not be writing a letter in sections or with unnecessary re-trace.  

Many times you see preschool children form letters by sections and not constructing the letter correctly.  These inaccuracies can be carried over to the later grade years and will absolutely interfere with legibility as the child is required to write more, at faster speeds, and in smaller spaces.  

Addressing correct letter formation is a must for legibility.  

So, the child who needs to work on “building” correct letter formation can typically perform these tasks when working one on one with an individual who provides differing levels of support.  

These might include verbal cues, visual cues, and physical prompts.    

But how is the child to transition from varying percentages of cues to more independence in their written work?  

A timer is an easy tool to use in this instance.   I love to grab a kitchen timer for practicing written work.  

Turn on the timer and use it to work on writing speed AND legibility:

  1. Tell your child that you are going to turn on the timer to count how long it takes them to copy a line or sentence with accuracy.  
  2. Then, try to beat that time while maintaining accuracy with correct letter formation.  When kids are rushed to complete written work, they tend to speed up and return to comfortable, bad handwriting habits.  
  3. Using the timer to copy one line with a goal to beat their own time is a motivating way to encourage carryover of appropriate skills.  

Next, check the work. Kids love when they can check their speed and try to beat their time. Try jotting down the time spent writing and check each letter formation.

This is a great time to collect data on legibility, too.

Mark off the number of correct letter formations in a sentence. Or jot down the amount of letters that are legible (or illegible) during a specific amount of time.

Many learners will want to try to beat their score on the next trial!

Timers for Writing

There are many writing timers that can be used to work on hand writing speed.

These timers for writing are great because they are small and easily fit into a therapist’s therapy bag:

This one has a magnetic back, making it convenient to stick to metal desks.

A small timer that fits into the palm of the hand is perfect for the clinician’s therapy bag or for fitting into a desk pencil box.  

using a phone timer to work on writing speed

While a phone timer is great, the phone itself can be a distraction for kids.  

Some kids can become hyper-focused on the time as it counts and will stare or become anxious about the time as they watch the numbers change.

A wind-up kitchen timer can help in those cases. You will need to count down to figure out the time spent on a handwriting task.  

However, a phone timer or the good, old microwave timer will do the job too, and in some cases can be motivating for some children.

This timer trick works best with kids who are working on letter formation and can form letters accurately and with correct formation with extended time, modifications, and/or added cues.  

More ways to use a timer in handwriting: 

  • Use a timer to work on speed.  For the child that writes very slowly or becomes overly focused on letter formation, use the timer as a countdown to improve speed and accuracy.  Mark each trial with time and correction errors. 
  • Set the timer for handwriting time.  This is a good way to get kids who are not motivated to work on handwriting skills.  Small rewards such as choosing a fine motor or visual perception activity between writing trials can be reward options.
  • Work on am and pm activities.
  • Use it along with moveable parts on a clock face, using manipulatives like we did in this rock clock activity.

Here are more time telling activities that may be used along with our timer handwriting activity.

How to use a timer to help kids work on letter formation, handwriting skills, legibility, speed, and accuracy of written work.

Be sure to check out all of the easy handwriting tips in this month’s series and stop back often to see them all.     You’ll also want to join the Sweet Ideas for Handwriting Practice Facebook group for more handwriting tips and tools.  

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.

how to use a timer to work on writing speed