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Home > Helping Children Attend, Learn, and Focus > General OT Classroom Tips

General OT Classroom Tips

Posture and Stability

Look at correct sitting posture and appropriate chair and table heights.

A child's feet should be flat on the floor and the desktop should be right under a 90 degree bent elbow. 

Incline desks and boards are best (think about how you read a paper or book, not flat on the table!). 

Use the 90 - 90 - 90 rule. Ankles, hips, and knees should be bent to a 90-degree angle for appropriate sitting posture.

If table is too high, elbows will be up and out to sides. If table is too low, the child will slump in their chair or rest their head on their hand.

Use footstool to support feet if the child's feet do not rest flat on the floor.

Allow students to work in various positions other than seated (standing at a vertical surface, lying on the floor propped on elbows, therapy ball chairs, standing desks, use bicycle exercisers under desks, bouncy bands, Move n Sit Seat wedges, etc).

Do warm-up activities to provide kinesthetic input to large and small muscles groups.

  • Jumping jacks

  • Dancing Finger songs

  • Simon Says at a quick pace

  • Donkey kicks or animal walks

Vertical Surfaces

Working on a vertical surface promotes the wrist extension and shoulder stability necessary for control of the fine movements involved in writing.

When working on a vertical surface, paper or work should be positioned just above eye level.

Examples of ways to incorporate vertical surfaces into your classroom:

  • Let the children write/draw on easels, white boards and/or chalkboards.
  • Desktop slant boards can be used for individual work at the desk.
  • You can also place a 4-5 inch empty 3-ring binder on the desk for incline. Position the binder with the rings toward the top of the desk and the slant toward the child. Then rotate the binder to a 45-degree angle. Consult with your occupational therapist on any questions you may have.
  • Have your students draw or write on paper taped to the wall.

    For younger students:

  • Place a Magna Doodle in a vertical position
  • When using pegboards, mount them to the wall with Velcro just above eye level.
  • Use magnetic letters/shapes on the chalkboard or side of a metal cabinet.
  • When using flannel boards, make sure they are just above eye level.


Pencil Grasp
There are two types of grasps: efficient and inefficient.

An efficient grasp the pencil is held between the pads of the thumb and index finger while resting on the middle finger. An acceptable variation of this is when the pencil is held between the pads of the thumb and index/middle fingers while resting on the ring finger.  The main thing to look for is an OPEN web space and DYNAMIC finger movements (not whole arm movements or closed web space). 

If a child is using an efficient grasp, their thumb and index finger should form a circular shape.

An inefficient grasp can include any of the following: fisted grasp, pencil held between the pads of the thumb and all four fingers, thumb wrapped over the top of the index and middle fingers, thumb tucked under the index finger, the hand held in a thumb down position, index and middle fingers wrapped around the pencil, or thumb pressing the pencil into the side of the index finger (thumb and index do not form a circular shape).

Paper slant

To best align paper, have student clasp hands in front of him/her and lay them on the desk. Their arms and bottom edge of desktop should form a triangle. The paper should be aligned parallel to the arm of the dominant hand. The paper should be at an approximate 45-degree angle.
The non-dominant hand should be used at all times to stabilize the paper.

Kinesthetic Learning
The following are various methods used to facilitate learning of proper letter, number and shape formation.

  • Air writing (visual/kinesthesia) - draw shapes or write letters with large arm movements with and without vision.
  • Mystery writing (visual/kinesthesia) - the teacher or peer moves the student's hand to form shapes or letters on blackboard or in the air and student guesses what was drawn.
  • Rainbow writing (motor memory/visual) - trace over shapes/letters or numbers several times with different colors (crayons/markerson paper or chalk on board)

  • Tactile writing (proprioceptive/tactile/kinesthesia) - trace shapes, letters, or numbers on carpet square, sandpaper, shaving cream, finger paints, sand, in homemade thinking putty, roll out shapes with playdough or putty, use Wikki Sticks to make letters then trace!

  • Use vibration pens found on amazon (proprioceptive/kinesthesia) - practice shapes or letters while getting good sensory feedback.

  • Constructional writing proprioceptive/kinesthesia/tactile) - construct basic lines/shapes on a color board or flannel board using wikki stix, play dough, pre-cut flannel pieces, etc.

  • Use plant sprayer to spray water on the side of a building or on the sidewalk to practice drawing shapes, letters, and numbers.

Quick Fixes

  • Use pencil grips on pencils to teach and practice correct finger placement or just simply use a broken crayon or shortened golf pencil so that whole hand grasp cannot be used. 
  • Have student hold a novelty eraser tucked under the ring and little fingers while writing, cutting, drawing or using manipulatives. This promotes the use of the thumb, middle and index finger for skilledmovement and the ring and little fingers to support the hand.

  • Sharpen or break pencils down to about 2 inches in length to encourage efficient pencil grasp and better control of the pencil.

  • Use large/chubby writing utensils such as large sidewalk chalk broken into 2-inch pieces, Jumbo Crayons broken intotwo inch pieces, or triangle crayons 

  • Use masking tape outline on the desktop to indicate how paper should be slanted.

  • If the student writes with too much pressure on the pencil, have him/her write with a 0.5 lead mechanical pencil and/or have him/her write with their paper on a carpet square or placemat.
  • If a student writes with a "hooked wrist", have them do written work on a vertical surface just above eye level.

These techniques will teach a student how to vary the pressure used on the pencil to avoid breaking the lead or putting holes in the paper, but a comprehensive OT evaluation is often needed due to how the whole body systems may be affecting handwriting.  


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