If you are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, then chances are the words copywork and dictation have come up repeatedly in homeschool discussions. The late Charlotte Mason, an educator who inspired an entire homeschool philosophy, advocated copywork and dictation as two of the key components to educating children in language arts. But, what are copywork and dictation and how do you do if you are doing them in the correct way?
What is Copywork?
Let’s start at the beginning. What is copywork? According to Julie Bogart in The Writer’s Jungle, “Copywork is the practice of choosing a selection from literature or a historical document and copying it over in your own handwriting.”
Charlotte Mason suggested starting handwriting practice as learning letters and their formation. After the student has learned to write their letters properly, they should then begin to take on short passages from well-written literature. As they develop, the passages will get longer.
But, copywork has evolved a bit in the modern homeschool. Copywork is often done daily using different selections from different pieces of literature, or it can be less frequent. It can be with added elements of grammar and spelling or left more as a handwriting exercise as Charlotte Mason advocated.
What are the benefits of Copywork?
Initially, copywork is for handwriting, but another benefit of copywork is to learn to spell. While you are reading the copywork passage with a child, go over possible spelling words. Have them study the words. Talk about the meaning of the words in the passage you read. Have them write the words carefully and possibly on more than one occasion. In our homeschool, we underline the words in the passage and refer to them again over the next few days.
Because copywork is the copying of well-written literature, it is also the precursor to your child learning to write their own compositions. As the child is copying the passage, discuss the grammar in it. Note the placement of commas and grammar rules used. Notice the punctuation the author used in the reading and why they made that particular choice. Also discuss parts of speech, particularly proper nouns that may have alternate spellings. As they are writing the passage, they are learning the grammar rules necessary for effective writing.
In this interview by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer, Rita Cevasco explains the benefits of copywork on working memory:
I’m excited to share Rita with you! You will love her. She’s worked for over 25 years with kids who have learning challenges, she homeschooled her own kiddos, and she is a good friend of mine (and Brave Writer’s!). She’s the genius behind The Wand!
Steps for Copywork
Step 1: Pick a passage
Use one or several options for picking passages:
- Read ahead in your child’s current reading and pick a passage with spelling or grammar topics you would like to discuss.
- Let your child choose a passage from his or her current reading.
- Create a jar filled with interesting quotes and let your child pick one at random.
- Use the Brave Writer Arrows and Boomerangs that have copywork passages which coordinate with your child’s reading.
Step 2: Discuss the passage
While reading the passage with your child, discuss it with them.
- Talk about what this writing is about and how it is written.
- Discuss the grammar and spelling in the copywork.
- Point out any literary elements included.
Step 3: Write the passage
There are no hard and fast rules for where to write these passages, but Charlotte Mason does make a point that copywork should be printed exactly as it was written and with the best penmanship. You can try some of these ideas:
- Create a copywork notebook or journal
- Create an atmosphere with candles
- Use different colored pens and practice different writing styles
- Add artwork to your copywork
Step 4: Keep it Short
Set a timer if you need to make sure that the copywork does not last more than five or ten minutes. Longer copywork is divided into sections and completed over a number of days. But, keep the copywork short so the student doesn’t become tired and lose focus.
What is Dictation?
The next step to teaching language arts with copywork and dictation is to add the transcribing of literature. Dictation can be done in various ways. For younger students, you may choose a form of dictation used by the French where they give the student the copywork as dictation, but leave out words that the student has to fill in correctly.
Another form of dictation is reverse dictation as outlined in The Writer’s Jungle. “I type the dictation passage into the computer. I leave out punctuation, capitals, and indentations… I print it out and tell my kids that they need to edit the passage.”
Dictation is usually only done once a week and takes around 15 minutes.
Steps for Dictation:
Step 1: Choose a passage and let your student study that passage.
The passage you choose for dication,
- Can be the copywork your student completed earlier in the week.
- Can be another passage of literature.
- Is given to the student with plenty of time to study and commit to memory.
Step 2: Read the passage to the student while they transcribe.
Slowly read the passage to the child, so they can write it down as accurately as they remember. According to Charlotte Mason, the “teacher gives out the dictation, clause by clause, each clause repeated once.” The student should have all capitalization, punctuation, and spelling correct.
Transcription can be written by hand on paper, or it can be on the computer (just make sure the spelling and grammar checking apps aren’t running). In this modern era, it is just as important to learn to type.
Step 3: Let the student check their paper
After they have completed writing their passage, let the student grade their own paper. Give them the quote from the book to compare to their writing. They should immediately correct any mistakes they made so that errors do not stay in their memory.
If the student has multiple problems with the dictation, it may be too long, or they may not have had enough time to study the passage. Try to adjust to your student’s needs.
How Do You Know if Copywork and Dictation Have Been Done the Right Way?
- the lessons should be short,
- the passages should be interesting and not too long for the student,
- the student should write as neatly and as accurately as possible,
- the dictation should be mostly correct,
- and over time you will begin to see your child’s handwriting, vocabulary, and grammar skills improve.
Check out these other fantastic resources about Copywork, Dictation, Narration, and Read-Alouds below:
- How My Dyslexic Son Became A Writer by Shawna at Not The Former Things
- How to Incorporate Narration into Everyday Life by Bethany at Homeschool Mindset with Bethany Ishee
- How to Create an Enchanting Experience with Copywork by Erin at Nourishing My Scholar
- How I Teach Language Arts Using Literature by Michelle at Homeschooling in the Pines