Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips

Writing Aids

UDL 4.1

Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips change the diameter, shape, and/or texture of writing utensils to help students working on fine motor control or hand-eye coordination to write more comfortably and legibly. To begin, a teacher closely observes students as they use drawing and writing utensils, taking note of awkward grasp patterns, difficulty controlling marks, fatigued appearance and general signs that indicate a student may need more support. The teacher then selects a variety of Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips to support the particular needs of the student (e.g., triangular pencil grip or wide diameter pencil for early learners, Y shape pencil or highly specialized writing instrument for students with more significant fine motor requirements). An Occupational Therapist (OT) can assist the teacher in identifying an ideal match. Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips offer a simple, accessible alternative to the traditional writing utensil, empowering young learners with developing hand muscles or students with fine motor needs with a positive and successful writing experience.

Implementation Tips

Observing Drawing & Writing
Look for signs of struggle such as producing illegible work, holding utensils in unusual ways or exerting significant effort to manipulate utensils. Consult an OT for resources on developmentally appropriate grasp patterns (e.g., [[| Pencil Grip Posture Illustration]], [[| Pencil Grasp Image]]).
Finding the Right Match
Have a variety of different utensils and grips available to try (e.g., [[| wide diameter pencils]], [[| triangular shaft pencil]], [[| Y shape pencils]]; [[ |indented pencil grips]], [[ |triangle grips]], [[ |textured grips]]). Collaborate with the OT and the student to find the right match.
Positive Framing
Communicate clearly that these tools are being offered to make writing easier, not because the student holds typical pencils “wrong.” Explain that, as writing assignments get longer in the upper grades, it’s important for the student to be able to write without hand fatigue or pain.
Monitoring and Adjusting
Pay close attention when students are trying Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips. Many students will need direct instruction and supervised practice to avoid holding these tools in the same prior inefficient grasp pattern. Be ready to try other styles and/or consult with the OT.
Encouraging Students
Provide positive reinforcement as students begin to use Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips. Verbally acknowledge when you notice students finishing assignments, writing without strain or producing more legible work (e.g., "Wow! You were able to add so many details when you used the pencil grip.").
Routine Reminders
Include a reminder to use Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips as a routine part of giving writing assignments. Even students with their own personal tools may need reminders to use them.
Modifying Traditional Pencils
Wrap masking tape around “normal” pencils, especially ones that are cylindrical rather than with faceted sides, to create a surface texture that is less slippery for students to hold. This can help moderate the amount of pressure students need to apply to the pencil and reduce hand fatigue.
Preventing Loss
Make a plan with students for where to store Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips when they are not using them. Specialized tools are harder to replace than “regular” pencils, so support students in taking responsibility for them.


Triangular Shaft Pencil
During Writer’s Workshop, a kindergarten teacher notices that a student shifts the pencil around into a variety of positions while writing. For the most part, the student seems to be clenching the pencil with the full fist (i.e., [[| palmar supinate grasp]]). When reminded, the student is able to briefly grasp the pencil correctly, but quickly resumes the less efficient grasp when continuing to write. The student’s handwriting and drawings are difficult to decipher and the writing process is slow and labored. The teacher has a few types of Adaptive Pencils and Pencil Grips in the classroom, and begins by offering the student a [[| triangular shaft pencil]]. The teacher models using the tool and supports the student in grasping the pencil correctly. As the student begins to practice with the triangular shaft pencil, the teacher closely observes.
Textured Pencil Grip
During independent writing, a teacher notices a student stopping frequently to shake or rub the dominant hand. Upon further observation, the teacher notices that the student presses down on the pencil very hard, sometimes tearing the paper while writing. When the teacher asks, the student explains that is feels like the pencil keeps slipping. The teacher introduces a [[| textured pencil grip]] that is slightly squishy. This makes it easier for the student to adjust the amount of pressure used on the pencil, decreasing the amount of hand fatigue.
Specialized Adapted Pencil
When a new student transfers into class, the teacher notices that the student uses a weak pencil grasp and demonstrates very demonstrates limited hand coordination. The teacher immediately contacts the OT and special education director to get more information about the student’s needs. The OT reports that the IEP indicates that the student had used a very [[| specialized adaptive writing utensil]] upon which the student can rest the dominant hand and manipulate with little pressure. The OT orders the specialized instrument and works with the teacher and student to make sure everyone knows how to use the tool.

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