How to Hold a Pen or Pencil

I wrote last week of the importance of holding a pen or pencil properly. If your student complains of an aching hand or shoulders, he or she may be holding the pen incorrectly. Clutching the pen too tightly or in an awkward grip often results in writer’s cramp or muscle fatigue, and students rarely realize why writing is not pleasant. Penmanship is important, and it should be relatively painless, too.

When I taught calligraphy several years ago, I observed that incorrect pen hold was the single biggest obstacle to beautiful and legible writing. I was able to help my adult students learn better habits, but it is far easier to start correctly when young. Proper pen hold can make writing easier, less tiring, and more beautiful. It’s worth practicing.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I thought I’d offer you this excellent image of the Tripod Grip for the left or right hand. The graphic was developed by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer, the creators of Draw Your World, who may be even more passionate than I am about the importance of holding a pencil correctly. They graciously granted me permission to reprint this helpful illustration.

How to hold a pen or pencil with tripod grip.


If you have a student who has learned an incorrect hold, Draw Your World offers useful training tools such as pencil grips that can help make a difference. Another thing that sometimes helps a student who needs to learn a better pencil hold is to start learning another skill such as calligraphy or drawing in which correct pen hold also matters. It makes learning how to hold a pencil seem more interesting, rather than a tedious chore.

It can be hard to relearn something as basic as how to hold a pen, but it can make a big difference in how easily your student writes, and how pleasant the experience is. And we all know it is more fun to do something pleasant than something hard!

8 Responses

  1. Hello Janice,
    I have just see your excellent website.
    I have spent a lot of time training young surgeons in basic surgical skills. One of the most basic is how to hold a scalpel.
    I started by telling them it was like holding a pen. Then I realised that perhaps 10% of trainee surgeons do not know how to hold a pen correctly.
    There seems to be a misplaced fear in teachers that they in some way are oppressing a child’s freedom by telling them how to grip a pen or pencil properly.
    A correct grip is fundamental to all other areas where the hand is used. The grips are all different eg in golf, bowling, baseball, fencing, horse riding, rowing, wind surfing, etc etc.
    You may like to see what we do in our surgical training program.

    I am starting a collection of photos of bizarre hand writing grips as in the training program.
    Do you have any examples?
    Best wishes,
    Michael Edwards
    Consultant surgeon
    DL11 7TD

  2. safee akmal says:

    excellent depiction. really useful for teachers to learn first and then make their students to implement.

  3. JNJ26 says:

    This is really not true. I child should be able to hold a pencil the way he or she feels good with. So stop saying only one way is correct.

    • Obviously, we will have to disagree on this. There is ample evidence to support the benefits of correct pencil hold, so I will continue to recommend learning to do it well. Thank you for writing.

  4. Kate says:

    Thanks so much for this instructional post. I’m 22 years old and I never learned how to properly hold a pen or write my letters so I’m having to learn now. (I can write but my penmanship is horrible and I found that after writing for a little while I have pains in my fingers, wrist, and shoulder.) In case you’re wondering, it turns out I tend to pull all my fingers into a fist (with lots of pressure) and I use three fingers on the pen while resting it on a fourth!

    I hope in the future people will learn from the mistakes of the past! If you teach children to write correctly the first time, they won’t need to re-learn at age 22!

  5. Henry says:

    I do agree with JNJ26 that there is no ‘correct’ way to hold a pen. But I also do think that there is more ‘optimal’ way of holding a pen so that you can write without inflicting pain on your hand. I find that I tend to have a similar reaction when I hear good/bad when I think like/dislike is more suitable. It probably has a lot to do with how I grew up disliking conformity for conformity’s sake.

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