10 Days of Copywork and Dictation- Benefits of copywork and dictation

Welcome!  It’s wonderful to have you join me for this 10 day series on the basics of copywork and dictation.  Today we’ll rewrite my essay and look at the benefits of these techniques, and then for the next two weeks I’ll supply you with some great examples to use in your own home learning as well as tips for extension activities.

Why copywork and dictation?

“Why should you use copywork and dictation in the early grades?  The purpose of copywork is to get into the child’s visual (and motor) memory the look and feel of a sentence that is correctly composed, and properly spelled, spaced, and punctuated.  The purpose of dictation is to have a child practice transferring his knowledge of the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation to actual writing.”

~Jessie Wise~
Master painters copy the works of those that came before to learn their craft; composers study, copy and take dictation from the music of earlier eras to absorb the structure and rules of composition.  So our children, in the same way, can learn the nuts and bolts of language simply by using the techniques of copywork and dictation from good quality literature.

The classical method and the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling both rely heavily on copywork and dictation for acquisition of language skills.  I came to use these techniques gradually, and over seven years have come to fully appreciate the benefits they provide to our homeschool.  Very simply, copywork is writing down exactly what one sees on the page, with a focus on neatness, precision, and absorption of the mechanics of language; dictation is writing down what one hears read to him, which requires short-term memory skills, and the recollection and application of the mechanics of language– spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

There is one piece to the copywork and dictation puzzle that actually has nothing directly to do with either one.  That piece is reading.  In my experience with my own children, exposing them to good literature, both independently and as read-aloud material, is the magic ingredient that bonds all language skills together.

I first recognized the power of reading good material when my son, then seven or eight and a voracious reader, used parentheses correctly in a paragraph of writing I assigned to him.  I had never taught him about parentheses specifically, yet he learned painlessly what they were and how to use them in his readings.  This seamless connection happened time and again between reading, copywork, dictation and writing.  My older two children soak up the rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar in large part simply through this happy quartet of tools.  The younger two are soon to follow (I hope!).

So to begin this series, and end this first post, let me leave you with some basic do’s and don’ts for copywork and dictation, and a few links to explore as well.

DO start early.  By first grade most children can handle a short sentence or two of copywork, and even a short mostly phonetic piece of dictation.

DON’T overwhelm children with too many rules at once.  In choosing your examples, focus on a concept or two that you have recently learned or need to review.

DO use good literature and exciting passages. I will give you plenty of examples over the next two weeks, but you can easily choose your own as well.  Suffice it to say, there have been many times my children have said to me, “That sounds like a good book!” after completing an exciting piece of dictation or copywork, and happily taken the book to their room to read.

DON’T expect them to know something obscure.  Dickens, for example, uses semi-colons and colons prolifically and not always in a modern, obvious way.  Some other examples may contain unusual proper nouns.  I give a heads up in these cases as the children take dictation.

DO let them choose the book sometimes.  I have veto power, but the kids like being able to choose a favorite book and I then pick the passage.

DON’T let them get frustrated.  Make sure the passage is accessible, yet challenging.  And while copywork should have excellence and neatness as a goal, dictation will not usually be perfect the first time (and if it is, the passage may be too easy!)

DO read dictation examples dynamically!  Your children will be able to hear every exclamation point, comma, and parenthetical phrase if you read it well.

DON’T vary your readings during one session.  You can accidentally make a statement sound like an exclamation if you’re not careful.  Try to read the excerpt the same way each time.

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