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Copywork & Dictation

opened notebook and pen near flower

What is Copywork? 

First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson — a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work — humpy ‘m’s, angular o’s.

Charlotte Mason

Copywork is simply copying an assigned passage perfectly, including exact spelling and punctuation, using best penmanship. Lessons should be short and supervised by an attentive parent. 

Presenting your children with carefully chosen passages from literature and poetry reinforces proper spelling habits while improving grammar and penmanship. It is important to be intentional to choose meaningful and well-written passages from weekly lessons for copywork assignments. 

The habit of copywork increases spelling retention and confidence in your children. Copywork is a whole language approach and an alternative to traditional spelling lessons.

Benefits of Copywork

Spelling

If a child has the natural gift of spelling, their eye can take a photographic image of a word and retain it. An example of this would be the word C-A-T. A student who can visualize would be able to see the word “cat” with their eyes closed.

Spelling does not come naturally for all students. Learning to visualize perfectly spelled words can improve spelling.

Once a child sees a misspelled word, the image of that word remains in their mind. This image introduces doubt. It is important that we minimize exposure to misspelled words.  

Hasty or sparse reading can cause spelling trouble. Exposure to quality literature and the habit of copywork will result in improved spelling. 

Grammar

Grammar is a challenging subject to teach our children. Without a strong grammar background, it can lead to frustration.

Charlotte Mason recommends beginning formal grammar lessons in fourth grade. She recommends laying a strong foundation for all students to be successful in grammar lessons using the habit of copywork. 

Copywork gives the opportunity to present punctuation and grammar lessons to our children in a meaningful context, without adding additional curriculum or dull worksheets. 

Penmanship

Copywork will naturally result in improved penmanship. Most penmanship curriculum includes words and sentences that are detached from their lessons. Copywork is a cohesive tool that reinforces learning in other subject areas. The copywork journal becomes a treasured keepsake.

Copywork Tips

  1. Choose a hard-cover or leather, lined notebook for copywork. If a student chooses their own high-quality copywork journal, they will be more likely to invest their best efforts and value it as a keepsake over the years.
  2. Choose quality passages that correspond with their daily lessons. Eventually a student can choose their own copywork passages from literature, poetry, or quotes from historical figures. 
  3. Keep copywork lessons short. A young student can begin with their name, gradually working up to one sentence. Older students can do longer passages, but should still limit their copywork lessons to 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Closely supervise and gently guide your student, giving them your undivided attention for 5-10 minutes, three times weekly. They will begin to form good copywork habits and will need less supervision as they get older. 
  5. Gently encourage perfect transcription, focusing on spelling and punctuation. 

What is Dictation? 

Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.

Charlotte Mason

Dictation is a step beyond copywork. A student should transcribe their assigned passage into their copywork journal upon hearing it read aloud to them. They should not have access to a visual cue of the passage. 

After successfully completing copywork for a specific passage, a student can progress to dictation. Dictation reinforces the practice of visualizing words, which directly improves spelling. 

Read the passage aloud to the student one time. The student should copy the passage perfectly, including punctuation.

Students can invest in their copywork and dictation assignments by choosing passages from their lessons that are meaningful to them. 

Charlotte Mason encourages parents, “Our aim in education is to give a full life. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.”