Do you need a simplified approach to teaching Language Arts that works for multiple grade levels? Then use natural methods such as copywork. Copywork is when a student copies a letter, word, sentence, or passage. Don’t let the simplicity of the method fool you, though. It is an effective and powerful learning tool.
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Tips for Using Copywork in Your Home
1. Set the tone.
If you want your children to see something as valuable, you have to believe it is valuable. How you present and talk about a subject will affect how your children see it. (I’m talking to myself here. I wish I had been more excited about math in my children’s early years!) Tell them why you feel copywork will help them build their language skills in a natural, but more simplified way. It really is less work for them to approach Language Arts naturally.
2. Be consistent.
Consistency creates habit. And when something becomes a habit, we don’t ask “Should we do this today?” Instead we just do it.
So whether you choose to use it once a week, twice a week, or more, be consistent. If you get into a mindset of skipping it whenever your days are busy, you and your children will begin to see it as less valuable, and those who are resistant will argue and complain more about doing it. However, consistency will eliminate this problem. And your children will gain the maximum benefits.
3. Start small.
Start small to build copywork muscle. Shorten the length or number of sentences, or lessen the amount of time your children work on it.
For students who are new to doing copywork, you can begin by requiring it one to two days per week. Then add more days as they mature. Or you can require a certain amount of time each day. Start with 3 to 5 minutes according to their age, and if during that time they don’t finish a passage simply pick up where they left off the next day.
And even when your kids are proficient at copywork that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to do more. Always think quality over quantity.
4. Say it out loud.
Rita Cevevsco of Rooted in Language advises children to “Say your sounds while you write.” This is especially effective for children who are still learning to read and for helping students make the connection between the spoken and written word.
I highly recommend her resources if your student struggles with a learning difference such as dysgraphia. Actually any student will benefit from her approach to doing what she calls intentional copywork.
5. Make it special.
Let your children use fun colored pens or pencils, go outside, or have a cup of hot chocolate while doing copywork. Light some candles or turn on some instrumental music. Or give them a special journal to write in.
Copywork journals and notebooks can become a record of all they are learning, so let them illustrate, decorate, and make it their own.
6. Add some variety.
In the next section we will talk about how to choose good passages for copywork. Just remember that “variety is the spice of life” as the saying goes. Copywork can be selected from books they are reading, poetry anthologies, fiction, non-fiction, even other subject areas such as science or math. The Bible, song lyrics, and even joke and riddle books make great sources.
If there is a particular area your children are interested in, be sure to choose some copywork passages from that subject.
And variety doesn’t have to only come from the passages they are copying. Let them type copywork sometimes as they get older. Or allow them to write on a white board or chalkboard instead of paper. Mix it up and be sensitive to what works for your children.
7. Be a copywork miner.
Do you want to get more from copywork? Then dig for the gold. Before doing copywork you can pre-teach a concept in the passage. Look for things like a grammar rule, a spelling pattern they haven’t learned yet, or a new vocabulary word. You can bring these things to attention before they begin and talk about them. Use a grammar handbook as an easy reference. Some of our favorite resources were More Nitty Gritty Grammar, Write Source 2000, and Writers INC.
After they have completed their copywork, have your children go back and check their work against the original correcting any mistakes they find. This practice will help build their editing skills.
How to Choose Copywork Passages
Where to find copywork passages:
- Both fiction and non-fiction books your children are reading. (When you choose copywork from what they are already reading you will help them make connections between language skills and real writing.)
- The Bible
- Poetry books and anthologies. (Some of my favorites include Read-Aloud Poems for Young People, The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems, and All the Small Poems and Fourteen More.0
- Quotes from historical figures, presidents, or other influential people. (Check out quotes from George Washington or Benjamin Franklin.)
Questions to ask yourself when choosing a copywork passage:
- Is this well written? Does it follow rules of grammar, usage, and mechanics? If not, is there a reason to break rules such as for stylistic purposes?
- Can I use this passage to teach or reinforce a concept my children are learning about?
- Does this passage draw the interest of the reader? Does it use imagery? Is there a unique way it describes a person, place, or event?
- Does the passage show the tone or mood of a piece of literature?
- Is there something about the passage that draws the attention of the reader? A clever play on words or humor?
- Do I or my children simply like it, even if we aren’t sure why?
Be sure to allow students to choose their own copywork at times. Challenge them to find an example of something they have learned such as how to write and punctuate dialogue and then copy it. Or they can choose passages that they enjoy. Ask them what they like about it. Was it funny? Did it use beautiful language? Was it an interesting fact? Did it inspire them in some way?
Ways to Use Copywork with Older Students
Many people embrace copywork for the younger ages, but abandon it as their students mature. Dictation often takes the place of copywork because it is considered a more advanced skill requiring higher level thinking, and in many ways it is. But older students will still benefit from copywork as well as dictation. They target different skills, therefore they are both still valuable in teaching Language Arts naturally.
How can you use copywork with older students?
1. Select passages that are more complex.
Choose passages using more advanced grammar, mechanics, usage, spelling, sentence structure or vocabulary words.
2. Reinforce a concept that your students need to work on.
For example, I taught a writing class in a co-op for high school students for several years. After they turned in some of their essays I noticed how many students didn’t understand when to use colons and semicolons (a common problem). We looked up the rules for using both and did a mini-lesson about it.
One way to reinforce a rule like this is to choose, or have your students choose, sentences from a book they are reading that shows how that particular punctuation is used correctly and copy it. They can even create a personalized notebook where they copy the rule and their examples from literature using it.
3. Have them create subject specific notebooks.
Notebooking and copywork make perfect learning companions. As students create their notebooks they can copy facts, quotes, examples, poems, rules, etc. The possibilities are truly endless. You will find some ideas in the next section for incorporating notebooking across subject areas.
4. Let copywork be a source of inspiration.
Copywork can be used in ways to help them grow in their personal lives. They can create copywork journals of favorite and inspiring quotes. Or they can use one to write passages of Scripture along with their thoughts and prayers.
Creative Copywork Ideas for Any Age
Copywork can ben incorporated multiple ways in your homeschool for any age of student.
1. In notebooking.
Students can create notebooks and include copywork for any subject:
- Writing or personalized Language Arts notebook—quotes for inspiration and writing ideas, examples of writing styles, grammar rules, spelling rules, etc.
- Math Notebook—copy definitions, rules to remember, geometry theorems
- Nature Study Journal—Copy facts from nature handbooks, quotes from naturalists such as Audubon or Lewis and Clark and include drawings.
- Science notebook—theories, quotes from scientists
- History—Copy facts, quotes by historical figures, important dates
I’ve created some free notebook pages for you to download with 4 different styles of pages and 3 levels for students of all ages.
2. With art.
Have students copy…
- A descriptive passage from a book they are reading and then draw or paint a picture of it.
- Poems and illustrate it.
- Bible verses using creative, artistic lettering (just search for Bible journaling for some great ideas).
Frequently Asked Questions
What if my children resist doing copywork? What if they simply don’t like it?
Hopefully you already have some ideas from above. Sometimes a particular method won’t work for your children, but there are also times when they act like children and teens. They don’t want to do assignments because they just don’t like it. But you are the teacher. If you find it valuable, then don’t shy away from requiring your children to do it. Just be sensitive in how you implement it. Explain why copywork will help them and what your expectations are.
And if that doesn’t work, you can do what I did. My youngest complained about doing copywork in the beginning. I told him, “I have to give you an education. You have a choice. You can do this short passage of copywork or we can get a textbook that has 10 to 20 exercises each day.” He chose copywork 😉
Is copywork an effective tool for any age, or should it only be used with young children?
Yes it is! Even you can benefit from it. Personally, I love writing Scripture passage in a journal, studying it, and then writing out my thoughts and a prayer.
What is the importance of doing copywork?
Copywork is a tool for teaching Language Arts naturally. Like children learn to talk by imitating the speech around them, children learn to write by copying writers. Copywork helps students make connections between the skills they are learning and writing and speaking.
How can you do copywork so that your children at least somewhat enjoy it? How can you do it in a way that you as a teacher are motivated to be consistent at including it?
Have some fun with it! Choose interesting passages, find a subject your children are interested in, and remember to incorporate it with other methods such as notebooking.
At what age is it recommended to start trying to use copywork? How can it be used with different ages?
As soon as you student are ready to learn to write, they are ready for copywork. Learning to write each letter is the simplest from of copywork and it grows as your children do. And as you can see from above, all ages can benefit from it.
How much should my children be copying?
Copywork can be incorporated in a variety of ways, so do some each day (as they are ready for it) even if it isn’t in the exact same form. Perhaps you copy from a passage of literature on Mondays, work on a nature journal on Tuesdays, copy a math rule on Wednesdays, etc.
Quality, Consistency, and Creativity
These three words—quality, consistency, and creativity—sum up how to use copywork in your homeschool. It will look different for each family and even each child. But I believe it is truly an effective tool almost anyone can incorporate into their homeschool: A simple, common-sense, yet powerful tool in your Language Arts curriculum.
More In The Simple Language Arts Series
What You Need to Know About How to Teach Language Arts
What You Need to Know Abut How to Use Copywork in You Homeschool, Part 1
What You Need to Know About How to Use Narration in Your Homeschool
What You Need to Know About How to Use Dictation in Your Homeschool
The Amazing Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Kids