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Why is Letter Tracing Not Thought to be Effective in Teaching Motor Plans?

Helene Gillespie, Ph.D., OTR/L

August 24, 2015



Why is tracing around letters not thought to be effective in teaching motor plans?


If the child is not given feedback at the time, they may not get a good representation of the letter.  For example, let’s say the child is tracing an X.  The child starts, but stops in the center, then starts at another point and stops in the center.  The child is not crossing midline or getting a good idea of the shape of the X. 

There are different ways to trace, though.  One is dash-to-dash, but one of the problems with dashes is that many children end up connecting the dots rather than drawing a smooth line.  Another way of tracing is to have a trail to follow, meaning that two lines are used and the child draws the shape between those two lines.  This is a method that Beery prefers.  With tracing, the child may do the letter or shape differently each time and may not be getting adequate feedback of what will lead to copying the shape. I think the best method is with feedback or hand-over-hand assist.

helene gillespie

Helene Gillespie, Ph.D., OTR/L

Dr. Gillespie has worked as a pediatric occupational therapist in both school-based and private
practice settings for over 35 years. Because of her strong interest in the field of
learning disabilities, she completed a Ph.D. in that area, with a concentration in cognitive
neuroscience, in 2003. Helene's doctoral research focused on component skills of handwriting.
Currently, Dr. Gillespie is a consultant for a special education cooperative. Additionally, she consults with
parents and teachers through her private practice: OT in the Classroom, LLC.

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