Making a Case for Lowercase

In today’s educational landscape, where less time is devoted to handwriting instruction, it is crucial to focus on the script that students require for functional writing tasks. Considering that lowercase letters make up approximately 95% of all letters in reading and writing, it becomes evident why teaching lowercase first should be the preferred approach. Let’s explore the compelling reasons behind this argument:

Ease of Formation

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 at one of three different points: top middle (A, I, J, T), top middle (B, D, F, H, K, L, M, N, P, R, U, V, W, X, Y, Z) or top right (C, G, O, Q, S). 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 uppercase letters necessitate two or more lifts, compared to only seven lowercase letters. For instance, uppercase “E” has four strokes, requiring one to lift and place the pencil at four different points. In contrast, 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. Eleven uppercase letters (A, M, N, Q, R, K, V, W, X, Y Z) contain diagonal lines in contrast to six lowercase ones (k, v, w, x, y, z). This measure also points to lowercase letters as being easier to write.

4. Letter Groups

Sorting letters by their first stroke and practicing them in their respective “groups” is a highly effective way of learning to write the letters.  Lowercase letters lend themselves well to this approach as they share multiple strokes, allowing for easy categorization 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

The repetition of the same continuous motion from one letter to the next builds motor memory and promotes rhythmic writing. 

In contrast, upper case letters have only 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. Consequently, lowercase letters offer a more cohesive and efficient approach to kinesthetic learning.

Taking these four factors into consideration, it becomes evident that lowercase letters are in fact easier to form. They have fewer pencil lifts, as they generally involve continuous strokes compared to uppercase letters. They also have fewer diagonal lines, making them easier to form during the early stages of writing development. Additionally, lowercase letters lend themselves well to kinesthetic learning through categorization into coherent groups based on shared strokes, facilitating motor memory and rhythmic writing.

Aligning Handwriting with Reading

Young students begin their reading journey by learning to read in lowercase. Several lowercase letters, such as b, d, p, g, q, h, and n, bear visual similarities, which can lead to confusion. By aligning handwriting instruction with reading, students’ ability to identify these visually-confusing letters is improved, especially for kinesthetic learners. Moreover, lowercase words are generally easier to read due to the distinct shapes formed by ascenders and descenders. In contrast, uppercase letters appear as “big rectangular blocks,” which take longer to process, as explained by Jason Santa Maria in his 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.

Transitioning from Upper to Lower Case 

The transition from uppercase to lowercase letters often poses difficulties for students. Those who have been taught uppercase first tend to confuse the two alphabets and resist switching from uppercase to lowercase. Mixing upper and lowercase or solely using uppercase letters not
only affects overall legibility but also leads to slower and more tedious writing. Therefore, prioritizing lowercase letters from the beginning can prevent such challenges.

What do the experts say?

Expert voices lend further weight to the case for lowercase letters. 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.” 

Virginia Berninger, a UW educational psychology professor, who studied the effect of handwriting on the human brain, says that it is important to teach lowercase letters first because they are used more frequently in writing and are encountered more frequently in written text. Uppercase should only be taught once lowercase letters are legible and automatic. Teachers should also keep written work to a minimum until lowercase writing is functional. 

Finally, Dr. Steve Graham, the Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation in Teachers College who has studied how writing develops, and how to teach it effectively for over 40 years, confirms that it is best to teach lowercase because it is “more economical” to do so.  

In conclusion, prioritizing the teaching of lowercase letters offers numerous advantages in early education. They are easier to form, enhance students’ reading skills, and provide a strong foundation for effective writing.


Berninger, V. W., & Wolf, B. J. (2009). Teaching students with dyslexia and dysgraphia: Lessons from teaching and science. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.

Maria, Jason Santa. “How We Read.” A List Apart, 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. Retrieved from 

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