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Copywork & Dictation

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 copying an assigned passage in perfect formation, including exact spelling and punctuation and using best penmanship. Copywork lessons should be short and supervised by an attentive parent. 

Presenting students with carefully chosen passages from literature and poetry reinforces proper spelling habits, while also improving grammar and penmanship. It is important to intentionally choose meaningful and well-written copywork passages from weekly lessons. 

Benefits of Copywork

Spelling

Students that have the natural gift of spelling can take a photographic image of a word with their eyes open and retain the image of the word with their eyes closed. An example of this would be the word C-A-T. Students who can visualize are able to see the word “cat” with their eyes closed.

Student that do not have a natural gift for spelling can improve their spelling by learning to visualize perfectly spelled words.

Once students see 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 lead to difficulty with spelling. Exposure to quality literature and the habit of copywork will result in improved spelling. 

Grammar

Charlotte Mason recommends beginning formal grammar lessons when students are nine years old. She recommends laying a strong foundation for all students to be successful in grammar lessons by introducing the habit of copywork. 

Students directly encounter punctuation and grammar through the habit of copywork, eliminating the need to clutter lessons with dull worksheets. 

Penmanship

Students that develop the good habit of copywork will naturally develop improved penmanship. Some penmanship curriculum includes words and sentences that are detached from a student’s weekly lessons. Copywork is a cohesive tool that reinforces weekly lessons. The copywork journal becomes a treasured keepsake.

Copywork Tips

  1. Choose a lined, hard-cover or leather notebook for copywork. 
  2. Choose quality passages that correspond with weekly lessons. Eventually students can choose their own copywork passages from living books, poetry, hymns, scripture, or quotes from historical figures. 
  3. Keep copywork lessons short. Younger students can begin with their name, gradually working up to one sentence. Older students can do longer passages, but should still limit copywork lessons to 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Closely supervise and gently guide students, giving them your undivided attention for 5-10 minutes, three times weekly. They will begin to form good copywork habit. With more experience, they will need less supervision. 
  5. Gently encourage perfect transcription, focusing on spelling and punctuation. If students misspell a word, quickly erase and redirect to proper spelling. 
  6. Make a habit of copywork, including it three times during the weekly lessons. 

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

After successfully completing copywork for a specific passage, students can progress to dictation. Dictation reinforces the practice of visualizing words, which directly improves spelling. For dictation, students transcribe the assigned passage into their copywork journal upon hearing it read aloud to them. Unlike copywork, students should not have an access to a visual cue of the passage when they do dictation. 

Slowly read the passage aloud to students, once. Students should copy the familiar passage perfectly, including punctuation.