Copywork is the practice of writing a passage, a sentence, or even a word from another writer’s example. It is powerful teaching tool that honors the natural way children learn, can be used by students of any age, and enables you to cover multiple subjects in a single lesson. If you’d like to try this powerhouse of a teaching tool, here are some suggestions for how to use copywork with your students.
Most handwriting curricula employ copywork when teaching students to first form their letters, but you can continue on by having them copy out short sentences and work their way up to longer passages of text. Be sure to focus on quality over quantity. It takes time for children to strengthen the muscles needed for extended copywork and develop the attention to focus for longer periods of time. Start slow and work your way up gradually. A first grader might start out by copying family names or simple sentences, while a middle schooler might be able to copy out entire poems or speeches.
Copywork reinforces proper spelling of words. If you practice copywork consistently over time, you may find that your student naturally internalizes the correct spelling of many words. If there is a spelling rule your child struggles with, select copywork sentences or passages that contain examples of the trouble rules.
Reading widely is the best way to build a large vocabulary, and copywork is a great way to build on this. Before your student copies, point out any unfamiliar words in the passage and assist them in looking up the definition. Copying a sentence containing a new vocabulary word will give your student wonderful practice in using the word in proper context.
In the same way that your child picked up the conventions of spoken English by listening to those around them, your child can assimilate the rules of punctuation, usage and mechanics by copying written language. Just make sure you select passages to copy that model correct grammar.
Imitating a great writer is a great way for your student to learn how to produce interesting prose. As your student grows and develops, you can begin to introduce increasingly complex passages of literature. Techniques such as varying your sentence length, starting your sentences with different types of clauses, and using both simple and compound sentences can all be internalized by copying excellent writing. Your student can also gain exposure to literary structures like simile, metaphor, alliteration, irony, and imagery. Encountering these literary devices in actual writing is often more meaningful than simple memorizing a list of terms.
If you’d like to give copywork a try, remember to start small and build gradually with consistency over time. Try to choose subjects that are interesting to your child. You can lift sentences from a favorite read-aloud or from a book on a topic your child is passionate about. You might even want to create your own copywork journal (sometimes called a commonplace book) of quotes and passages that inspire you.