Technique Four: Air Writing
The physical act of air-writing the letters as well as saying and spelling the words creates a big cognitive impression and helps cement the word in the child’s memory. The exercise also gives the child some valuable practice in writing that will be useful later on in their education.
As you do this exercise, hold the flash card at arm’s length from your body, and at arm’s length from the child. The flash card also needs to be held at the child’s eye level. We want to make sure that the child is focused on the written word on the flash card, not on your face or mouth.
The first step of air-writing a word is to say the word while “underlining” it, using two fingers of your right hand to trace the arrow that runs from left to right underneath the word on each flash card. Then spell the word out loud, using two fingers of your writing hand to “air-write” each letter as you say it. You will air-write the letters underneath the printed word on the flash card, but do not actually touch the flash card. After air-writing the word, say the whole word one more time, again tracing the arrow to “underline” the word from left to right.
As children in this age range are also learning handwriting, be sure you form each letter correctly as you say its name, to model the correct technique. And watch the child to make sure they also are forming the letters correctly. You and the child should both air-write below the word on the flash card so that your fingers don’t block the student’s view of the letters.
One more tip: Have the child hold their writing arm straight and stiff as they air-write the word. This helps with the kinesthetic reinforcement of the writing exercise. It also makes it easier for the adult to see whether the student is really writing the word or just waving their arm around!
Here is a sample script for you to follow:
Adult: Let’s air-write this word. I’ll go first.
Ready? BEEN. B-E-E-N. BEEN.
Again: BEEN. B-E-E-N. BEEN.
Now it’s your turn.
Child: BEEN. B-E-E-N. BEEN.
Child: BEEN. B-E-E-N. BEEN.
Adult: One more time.
Child: BEEN. B-E-E-N. BEEN.
Adult: Good job!
3. Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why does the child need to air-write underneath the word on the flash card? Doesn’t it make more sense for them to trace the letters on the card?A: Tracing the letters is easier, but writing underneath the word is better for the learning process. Air-writing the letters in a (slightly) different location means the child has to intentionally form the letters, rather than mindlessly tracing lines. Also, tracing the printed letters can obscure the child’s view of the flash card word. A vital part of the sight words learning process is that the child spends time looking at the word while saying/spelling/tapping/writing it.
Q: Why shouldn’t the child touch the flash card while air-writing the word? Does it really matter?A: The kinesthetic and tactile feedback we are aiming for in this exercise comes from the arm and hand motions involved in underlining and air-writing the word. These are the movements and senses we want the child to focus their attention on. The feeling of touching the paper flash card simply distracts from and dilutes the effect of these primary motions.
Not touching the card also allows multiple children to air write the word simultaneously. In a group situation, the teacher can fix the flash card to a wall, and can have a group of children working together while they stand behind the children, monitoring performance in correct letter formation.
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13 Responses to “Technique Four: Air Writing”
Thank you so much for sharing your ideas! I am a kindergarten teacher and needed some new ideas for sight word fun!! I am going to print and play a few of your games on Monday:)
Super! Thank you! I am teaching spanish kids, very useful for me 🙂
I have a three-and-a-half-year-old that I am working with on sight words. Does the child have to know how to write all the letters of the alphabet in lowercase in order for them to be effective at this technique?
ADMIN – HI Liz,
Three-and-a-half is pretty young for sight words, so I would actually recommend that you work on our Phonemic Awareness activities instead. These pre-phonics games will lay a strong foundation of being able to hear and change the sounds within words, and these skills will make reading and spelling easier when s/he starts learning phonics.
If you really want to continue with sight words, and your child can’t yet write the letters, you should just skip the Air Writing and Table Writing techniques. If s/he’s in the process of learning to write the letters, just make sure s/he is tracing the letters correctly while doing the sight words lessons. You don’t want to accidentally reinforce incorrect writing habits.
I love the air writing strategy of teaching how to write the alphabet. Please send me more information about air writing.
I teach kindergarten. I appreciate this free resource.
I am trying to work with my 5 year old on air writing to help her remember the letters, and I am having trouble getting her to use a straight arm. She wants to bend from the wrist or the elbow and just can’t seem to understand how to keep her arm straight and move the arm from the shoulder. Any suggestions on working with her on this?
By the way, I am working with her because she has been unable to recognize her letters, and her older sister is severely dyslexic, so I suspect she may be as well. I used air writing to great success with her older sister, and I never encountered this “spaghetti arm” problem with her. Your help would be appreciated!
ADMIN – Hi Kimberly,
Model straight arm, and if she will let you guide her arm gently through the motion. You can even put a rod in her sleeve! But, at the end of the day if he is doing everything else right – the straight arms isn’t critical and if he is getting the rest right – move on.
Like to share what we do. We write with our pointer finger into the palm of one’s hand.
I love these sight words learning techniques. The kids like doing it all the different ways adn it has really helped them learn their sight words.
Looking forward to trying these techniques with a child I mentor, my first grade reading friend. I’ve noticed that she does not form letters correctly. How should I correct her?
I am inspired with these sight words learning techniques. Thanks!
Why do you use two fingers while air-tracing. What is the evidence behind that?
Sight Words Admin
Hi Vanessa, Many educators suggest that children use two fingers when air-writing. While one-finger tracing has its benefits (e.g. as made popular by Montessori), it stands to reason that having your child engage more (finger) muscles in the air-writing or tracing activity will enhance their muscle memory, because this would stimulate more of the sensorimotor part of their brain. Second, the practice of two-finger air writing is an easy and practical differentiation from single-finger air writing — which can be confused by a younger child with simply pointing to an object of interest or curiosity (i.e., people are wont to use their index fingers to point at objects in most western societies, anyway). Whichever number of fingers you lean more towards having your child use for air-tracing, you may check out these other online references that impart the same practice: https://www.rituvaish.com/blog/2019/5/7/7th-may-2019-techniques-to-master-reading-high-frequency-words-for-kindergarteners, https://www.understood.org/en/articles/8-multisensory-techniques-for-teaching-reading.
I’m a linguistics student working on a paper on English orthographic depth and the embodied techniques that spellers use in spelling bees. This website has been a great resource, many thanks!