Should you be intentionally assigning copywork practice to your child? The tradition of completing copywork has been around a long, long time. Some may refer to copywork as an old-fashioned technique, even a prosaic practice. Does the word conjure up the image of Little House on the Prairie? Or, do you cringe at the memory of writing, "I will not chew gum in class," a hundred times?
Well, I'm here to tell you that the practice of completing intentional copywork lessons absolutely should be added to your lesson plans. Let me share the what, when, who, and why associated with this meaningful method of language practice.
What is copywork? Copywork is the practice of copying words or sentences, by hand, from one source to another source. It may be as simple as a handwriting book that instructs young writers to practice cursive while writing "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog". In some homes, it may consist of children memorizing a bible verse, virtue, or proverb by copying the lines word for word into a personal devotional book. Some children may copy a favorite poem or song lyrics as their writing exercise. The key, in my opinion, is to make it meaningful. In fact, the more meaningful the better. Valuable quotes, classic literature lines, and inspirational ideas all make for excellent copywork training.
When is it best to have children do copywork? Once a child can hold a crayon or pencil, copywork may begin. The first step may be as simple as modeling a letter from the alphabet for the child, and then having the child copy it to the best of his ability. When learning sight words, in kinder and first grade, students can copy their words. In early elementary, students can copy full sentences. Certainly, the older the child gets, the longer the copywork passages become.
Who benefits from copywork? Any and all students who need the English language properly modeled to them will benefit from copywork. Yes. That is everyone.
Why is copywork worth the time and effort? When done correctly, copywork is worth the time because it offers a perfect teaching moment. In most cases, it is not intended to be an independent practice activity , and especially not at the beginning of any new writing lesson.
The modeling of copywork is the critical piece often overlooked. Three main targets should be addressed when doing copywork with your child. First, the parent should read aloud the word or sentence, pointing to the words, or have the child should read it aloud. Next, as the child looks from the word to his page and back, memorization will begin to take place. Students are memorizing sentence structure, word placement, and the spelling of words. This is the perfect time for a parent to cover the page and ask the child, "Can you spell that out loud without looking?" Finally, as copywork is strengthening hand-motor coordination, it is the perfect time for parents to help a child readjust pencil grip and realign paper placement.
Unfortunately, when a child is left to complete copywork independently, he is not actually reading what he is writing. Likely, he is not focusing on the memorization that is taking place. And, lastly, he may be forming poor penmanship habits. Until a student has truly mastered the proper technique of copywork practice, I encourage parents to sit with their child and use the opportunity to teach, correct and encourage.
Some educators will argue that copywork is no longer necessary; being dull, meaningless, and simply a waste of time. Knowing that it can connect children to valuable thoughts and ideas, model correct penmanship and sentence structure, and lend itself to perfect one-on-one instruction, I would argue those points. That being said, however, when copywork practice is done poorly, it certainly is dull, meaningless, and wasteful. My advice is to be sure that the copywork practice you choose has value and is given the proper attention it deserves.