Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Copywork and Journal Writing

Copywork is not something that I have used until very recently.  I have not read a whole lot about the Charlotte Mason method (which, I think, is where this idea comes from).  I know that it's something that is encouraged in several classical models of homeschooling.  I had a visit with a homeschooling friend recently who expressed that she does not think a child should do "free writing" until they have had a strong background in copywork so they can learn and understand the mechanics and tools of written language before trying to apply them to expressing their own ideas creatively in writing.  I have to say I tend to disagree with this a bit.  I do feel it's important for children from an early age to begin to express their ideas in writing, even if those ideas are not perfectly executed in terms of spelling, usage, punctuation, capitalization and grammar.  Writing is a means of communication and I would hate to see children being discouraged from communicating their ideas in writing until they have mastered all the basics.  With that said, I'll share what I'm doing right now with my first grader who will be seven in about a month.

We started the year doing a minimal amount of writing because he was reluctant and skeptical about his own abilities.  Now that he has a better grasp of some basic phonics rules (we used Explode the Code 3 and just finished it) as well as some spelling rules (we use All About Spelling), he is in a better frame of mind to do some writing on his own.  So.......about a month ago I gave him a spiral notebook to use as his journal.  I have him write the date on a new page each day and require him to write at least two sentences about a topic of his choice.  I often suggest ideas if he's stumped, but the thoughts he writes are strictly his own.  If he needs help spelling words, I either help him sound it out, remind him of the rules he knows, or just write the word in a word box at the top of the page.  Here is a recent entry he wrote about a Lego Universe he is building in his spare time.

In the top left corner you can see the box where I wrote "Lego Universe" and "vehicle".  The next photo shows the sentences he wrote.  I think he's doing a great job!!   I can see I need to give a lesson on contractions soon, though!!  :-)

In addition to writing in a journal each day, we have just started  doing copywork each day.  My first grader is reading Frog and Toad books now, a chapter each day.  So.......I've been choosing one sentence from the chapter he reads for him to do as copywork.  He just finished doing his Handwriting Without Tears book, so copywork is replacing that and this is one of his main ways to practice his handwriting. After he writes the sentence (you'll notice that I draw a line for each work with a red colored pencil to help him with spacing), we talk about various aspects such as, "What words are nouns?" (and he draws the Montessori noun symbol over them), "Why are these words capitalized?"  or "Why is there a question mark?"  With a simple conversation like this we are able to target several skills in a very short amount of time.  Below is a photo of a recent copywork passage.


  1. I definitely think that children should be encouraged to write as much as possible. In the UK we are very aware of how emergent writing is a necessary and discrete part of learning to write independently. When I realised that every mark, every attempt a child made, in writing was a step towards independence in both reading and writing I put a lot of effort into encouraging it. I am considering setting up a role-play area in my elementary 6-9 classroom to encourage the reluctant and less confident writers.

    I would also encourage your son by sometimes asking him to write as much as he can and not to worry about spellings. If you provide him with a word mat with the first 100 high frequency words on, he will soon learn them and become confident in using them. The rest of the spellings just let him sound out. This way, you will be able to see which phonic lessons have stuck and which need more reinforcement. Thrass charts are good, you could google THRASS and see what comes up. I don't use the whole system but the resources are great!

    Copy work is old fashioned and proven not to have much of an impact on learning. I know it is very popular with some homeschoolers, especially in the US but I think that is much a sign of parents not really knowing how to deliver a meaningful education to their children and wanting to have something concrete to hang onto as anything else. As you have a good grounding in both Montessori and SEN I would encourage you to use that knowledge! Copying other peoples' words is good for handwriting, but that is all. Otherwise it is known as plagerism!!!!

    Great to see he is becoming more confident.

  2. Thank you Laura and Annicles. You both have great ideas. My 8 yr. old, DS, isn't much into writing or copy work. Even when he was in a Montessori class he HATED journaling. I try to let him do it as he feels he needs it, but I do need some form of documentation sometimes for "the books". I also agree that children should write on their own in their "free" way. I've heard mixed reviews about correcting their writing though. Some days I just wish he'd like a regular pencil in his hand and not just a colored pencil to color with.

  3. You may find this interesting

    Happy Easter!

    1. Hi, Teresa! Thanks so much for referring me to your post. I gleaned a lot from it and you've made me want to learn more about the Charlotte Mason approach! Blessings to you and your family this Easter!

  4. Oh, I am glad you found Jen's post interesting. I wish it was mine! Lol.
    I am so glad you are writing again. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and creative ideas.

  5. Oh Laura, I am so glad to see you bringing Montessori into your homeschool. I haven't been reading your posts in awhile but a quick glance tells me I will have to catch up. My Montessori Journey was a big influence in bringing Montessori into our homeschool. I hope you and your boys have found a new groove for your time together incorporating all of your montessori experience--thank you!

  6. I love both of these ideas. I bought a manuscript book for my 4 year old to practice writing on. I think we will definitely be writing a sentence or two each day from one of the books we are reading.

    The only way he can write anything other than his name and his sister's name is by looking at it and copying it at the moment. With consistent practice though, I'm sure he can have a sentence of his own in a journal too!

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