What Is Copywork?
I was first introduced to the concept of copywork about 12 years ago when we were just getting started in homeschooling. It was while reading A Charlotte Mason Companion that I came across this concept for building language fluency and it totally captured my interest. The basic purpose of copywork is to expose your student to great literature for the purpose of building reading fluency, word recognition, vocabulary, and improving handwriting. It’s such a simple concept, and when used wisely, can elevate your child’s education.
Why Use Copywork?
Did you know that studies have shown we learn and retain information more efficiently when we write things down? There’s something about transferring information from our pencil to our brains that helps it stick.
Copywork also exposes students to great writers. Whether you choose to use excerpts from literary fiction, the bible, poetry, or even songs and letters, the more frequently kids are exposed to beautifully written, grammatically correct, interesting pieces, the better they will learn to recognize and even begin to write beautiful, grammatically correct, interesting pieces of their own.
For kids who have a hard time coming up with original creative writing ideas, or struggle with transferring ideas from imagination to paper, copywork exercises often help unblock the mental flow, enabling kids to recall strong vocabulary and descriptive sentences from memory. They will learn bigger and better words, and understand the context in which to use them.
Copywork builds accuracy. If you want your kids to retain information and be precise in their understanding and recall, copywork is the very best tool.
How To Get Started
It is simple and easy to begin incorporating copywork in to your daily school routine. And there are myriad ways to do it. Here are just a few ideas.
- Buy or make a special, fancy notebook just for copywork. Make sure this book stays clean and tidy, because it will be a special book of your child’s best writing. Keep a special pencil or pen just for copywork. The fancier, the better.
- If desired, you can organize copywork in separate notebooks by subject. I.e., Spelling copybook, Math copybook, Bible copybook, etc.
- Start each day with copying a bible verse or stanza of a poem, until your child has completed an entire chapter or piece.
- Choose a chapter of an interesting book, like Anne of Green Gables or Farmer Boy, for your daughter or son to copy a paragraph at a time. If your child likes to draw, you can incorporate art journaling into this as well.
- Utilize copywork for other subjects like science, history, or math. Kids can copy down math facts, historical information, or science definitions as a way of ‘doubling up’ on subjects. Remember, the goal isn’t to add more work, it’s to make their work more efficient.
How to Evaluate Copywork
Copywork is not so much graded as it is evaluated.
- Neatness counts. Did your child use her best penmanship? Are her margins straight?
- How exact is the copywork? Did she carefully copy out exactly what the original said, including punctuation?
- Allow your child to review and correct her own work by comparing it to the original.
Copywork By Age
- Early Learners: Don’t think copywork can only be done by older students. If you have a young child who is just learning to read and write, copywork is excellent for improving and strengthening those skills. One fun idea for early learners is to buy a blank book, find a picture book that has simple sentences, and allow your child to fill the blank book like this one with sentences and artwork copied from the original book. My kids LOVED doing this when they were young, and it helped my daughter have the confidence to attempt writing and illustrating her own blank books as she was able.
- 3rd-5th Graders: These are the years when you are working to build language fluency, vocabulary, and spelling. It’s also the time to encourage neat penmanship. As kids grow in skill level, their copywork pieces will grow in length and complexity. They might begin with simple and short poems by Emily Dickenson and eventually move toward more complex literature like The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, Harry Potter, or A Wrinkle In Time.
- Middle and High Schoolers: Lots of parents drift away from copywork as their kids age, either for time constraints or because copywork can seem like an early learning tool. However, copywork can and should still be done by older students because it is an excellent study help. Copywork helps our brain matter retain information, so using it to study for tests, research information, or memorize excerpts is essential for advanced learning. And contrary to what you may be thinking, copywork helps guard against the primary writing sin of plagiarism. When kids understand that copywork is copying someone else’s work word for word, it will help them distinguish between copying and rephrasing. Good writers must be able to know the difference.
What About Dictation?
Dictation is, of course, the fraternal twin of copywork. Simply put, it is the transfer of ear to pencil. The difference is that, while copywork depends on the eyes, dictation depends on the ears. For some reason, my kids thoroughly enjoyed dictation exercises when they were younger. And I found that utilizing dictation in our schoolwork reaped several benefits:
- Dictation builds memory. Kids learn to pay close attention to the speaker, keep quiet, and focus intently on writing down exactly what they have heard. This skill is essential for continuing education and for life. Do you want your kids to be able to take good lecture notes? Sermon notes? Dictation is the tool that will get them there.
- Dictations builds focus. Some kids have a hard time sitting still, being quiet, and focusing on just one thing. My eldest was like this. Often he would need breaks from sitting down to just run around and get his wiggles out. But when we did dictation, he was able to be still and quiet to focus on writing exactly what I spoke. It actually amazed me.
- Dictation improves spelling and punctuation. Because kids can only hear vocal inflection, they must guess at where to place commas, periods, and the like, as well as the spelling of words. You might think there’s little benefit to guessing, but in fact, educated guessing is problem solving. They must quickly use the knowledge they have and apply it to what they are writing.
How To Do Dictation
- Similar to copywork, you will choose an excerpt from literature, scripture, or poetry based on your child’s ability level. However, you will need to shorten the length, as dictation takes longer than copywork. I recommend starting younger kids with three simple sentences, and older kids with a paragraph. Complexity grows as the child grows in ability.
- Read each sentence slowly and precisely, repeating the sentence three times and only three times. Kids are not allowed to ask for clarification, but must write what they hear, or their best guess.
- When you have finished, give the original content to your child to check and correct his work for punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and other mistakes.
When done right, dictation should only take 15-20 minutes of your day. And remember, you can combine it with other subjects too.
I have used lots of books in copywork and dictation, but if you have younger elementary children, I highly recommend the inexpensive and timeless, Primary Language Lessons and its follow-up, Intermediate Language Lessons. These little books contain lots of excerpts designed just for copywork and dictation, and are interesting pieces for children. I have also used the bible, and lots of Emily Dickenson poetry. Another place to find great copywork workbooks is Queen Homeschool. They have writing books that incorporate language lessons, art appreciation, math, and more. There are many more I could list, but these provide an excellent place to start.
Copywork and Dictation. Not hard at all to incorporate into any style of homeschooling. Have YOU tried it yet?
P.S. If you’re looking for some holiday themed copywork to plan for the upcoming Christmas season, I have a wonderful copywork bundle I’ve put together just for subscribers.