5 Creative Manipulatives for Building Writing Skills

Last Updated on May 4, 2023 by Editorial Team

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Writing and reading are the basic and most important skills that lay the foundation for strong learning. However, not all kids are equipped with these basic skills or have the capacity to grasp them. These children, having conspicuous learning difficulties pertaining to reading and writing need alternatives to pen and paper to develop the basic skills.

When kids with learning disorders enter the preschool and are given a board or chart with letters, they feel lost. The inability to recognize the letters and sound them out affect their writing abilities too, badly.

Writing requires encoding phonological information when writing words” – Graham & Herbert

Since the process of encoding phonological information becomes hard to crack for early writing learners, they tend to lag behind. The students may be highly imaginative, and creative, and may have better critical analytical abilities than others; the only thing that stops them from expressing their intelligence is a lack of reading and writing skills.

Some of the researchers reveal that kids with writing difficulties show the following characteristic features in their written assignments:

  • Poor handwriting
  • Slow completion of work – work is mostly abandoned
  • Spelling errors
  • Poor vocabulary
  • Lack of ideas while writing

So, the need is to provide the students with alternatives like manipulatives, board games, applications, and learning resources of various kinds, which can help them acquire the basic skills of writing. Let’s study writing manipulatives and find what role they play in developing the writing abilities of early learners.

5 Creative writing manipulatives & their role in imparting early writing skills

Manipulatives, as you all know, are maneuverable objects that children sort, arrange, move, or join with the purpose of gaining some learning. These offer a pretext for developing fine motor skills and also boost the ability to recognize numbers, colors, shapes, alphabets, etc. Some of the effective manipulatives offering reliable learning support are evaluated here. We’ve curated a list of 5 such creative manipulatives that help in building early writing skills.

1. Lowercase and uppercase letter tracing cards

Lowercase and upper case letter tracing cards

Speech or writing starts with the alphabets. These are the basic unit of a language. Thus, to grow into a proficient writer, beginners need to learn to recognize the alphabet in both lower and upper case forms. This skill of identifying the letter becomes easier to achieve with upper-case and lower-case letter tracing cards. The cards tell the alphabet and the words that start with that alphabet using an image of that letter. For example, mostly, fan, frog, fish are printed on the letter card to give an introduction to the letter ‘F’.

The teachers use these writing manipulatives to tell the look of the letter and the sound they represent. The wipe-off-and-write-on letter tracing support allows children to learn the flow of strokes of the pencil needed for writing a particular letter.

2. Prompt Cubes

Prompt Cubes

The prompt cubes offer a readymade solution for giving a mental nudge to the students who find it difficult to make sentences appropriate for any real-life situation. By prompting them to complete the sentences that one uses in a daily routine, the kids can explain what they saw, where they went, or what they did clearly and with brevity.

The paper ‘Wise Eyes – Prompting for Meaningful Student Writing‘ by Marry Ann, Sherry, Fall 2011 sums up the importance of prompting as:

  • Prompts help state a purpose
  • The prompts help bring relatability to real-life situations
  • Writing prompts provide an initial push for explaining a personal experience
  • These elicit comments or encourage reflection

All such tasks are performed well by Prompt Cubes. The cubes mostly contain the initial part of the sentence describing a real-life situation, the kids fill in the ending part. By doing this, they learn sentence construction, build vocabulary, and narrate an incident as well.

3. Letter/word tiles

Letter/word tiles

Writing requires learning spelling. Words with two, three, or four letters are the first introduction to the English language to a kid who is at the beginning of acquiring literacy.

The word tiles offer a tactile approach to learning spellings. Just pick the relevant tiles and make words. Using these tiles as writing manipulatives saves the struggle of holding a pencil for a preschooler. Before pushing kids to learn how to write letters, these tiles make the kid well conversant with the shape of letters. These further create curiosity about writing them in kids once they gain confidence in the letter recognition process.

4. Letter construction set

Letter construction set

A playful approach always helps in sustaining the learning in the minds of early learners. The letter construction set replaces letter tracing with pegboard and strips with holes. The sequence of putting the strips on the pegboard gives a tactile introduction to the letter-tracing activity. By way of gamification, the kids will learn to draw the lines for writing letters in the correct sequence when they have practiced amply on this activity set.

So, by learning the sequence of putting strips, the children get to learn letter writing by using the association ability of the mind.

5. Linking cubes

Linking cubes

It is a common observation that beginners find it difficult to learn spelling. They sometimes get confused, and their hands also start aching when they are given the task of writing a page full of spellings. The result is – they give up practicing! Young children at the kindergarten level can get aid in learning spelling by using linking cubes. these cubes make practicing easy.

Kids can link the letters in the correct sequence by taking the help of a hint sheet. Users of linking cubes find this manipulative to be useful in the:

  • developing decoding ability
  • understanding word formation
  • enhancing spelling skills and applying spelling rules

Similar to spelling worksheets, linking cubes build fluency in spelling and help the kids to become confident about writing the words correctly, if they practice on these a lot.

How to introduce writing manipulatives to kids?

‘Use of scaffolded lessons to move kids from concrete interaction to abstract reasoning is a proven pedagogical approach for introducing manipulatives to kids.’[1]

This means, the kids should be familiarized with manipulatives first.

The teachers may ask kids to place the manipulatives on the intended shelves to be comfortable. They may also have a small discussion to tell kids how to use the manipulatives for learning purposes.

Further, they can prepare a chart tabulating manipulatives and lessons which they plan to use.

Concluding Thoughts

The use of manipulatives for building writing skills in kids of all ages is highly appreciated by educators all over the world. Besides enhancing a student’s ability to write, these manipulatives serve as great tools for improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, which are equally important for kids to be able to write.

While they interact with manipulatives, kids get better at letter construction, spelling skills, sentence formation, etc., all of which are necessary to create a strong hold over the language. Hence, using writing manipulatives is a wise way to trick children’s minds into developing word literacy. With the help of correct strategies and discussions, teachers can employ these as effective writing skills-building tools.


  1. Berkseth, Holly A., “The Effectiveness of Manipulatives in the Elementary School Classroom” (2013). Honors College Theses. 10. https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/honorstheses/10

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