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Cross-curricular - Getting a feel for fonts

What it's about

"Can't you do something about his handwriting?" is the ubiquitous cry at parents' evenings. Since calligraphy was used in early manuscripts, we have attempted to recreate beautiful letter forms when writing. Yet I think it is important to show pupils that the use of different fonts can also make writing more readable, accessible and even a little more beautiful, writes Julie Greenhough.

Getting started

Which font do you choose? Probably Calibri, the Microsoft font of choice and the default setting for Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel. It is regarded as the most widely-used font in the western world. But there are now more than 100,000 fonts.

The concept of serif and sans-serif fonts may well be taught when looking at printed medianon-fiction texts, but most analysis stops there. Serif fonts, such as Baskerville, carry a finishing stroke at the base of a letter or an upper flick. As my class pointed out, they look a bit like current eyeliner trends.

Sans-serif fonts such as Futura, Helvetica and Gill Sans are perceived as less formal. The first modern sans-serif font is thought to have been created by Edward Johnston, master calligrapher, in 1915-16 for London Underground. Interestingly, the plaque left on the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 11 was typed in Futura capitals. Let's hope that alien life forms do not interpret the capitals as shouting.

Which fonts do your pupils choose? For presentations on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, my pupils used Nosfer in blood red that appeared to drip down the page. Others used Eater Caps, a font seemingly infected by a disease that spreads and then "eats" letters.

What else?

A range of fonts can be downloaded free from

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