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Why Copywork Doesn’t Always Work for Teaching Spelling

Why Copywork Doesn't Always Work - All About Spelling

Perhaps you’ve heard of using copywork to teach spelling. Maybe you’ve even assigned some spelling copywork to your children. Still, you may be wondering about the benefits of this popular homeschool discipline.

And more importantlydoes it really work?

What Is Copywork?

Copywork is exactly what the name implies—an exercise of copying words from a written example or model.

For younger children, copywork may consist of copying the letters of the alphabet and single words. Older children copy sentences, paragraphs, and eventually entire pages. Content often comes from Scripture, poetry, historical documents, speeches, and other writings of historical or moral value.

The Primary Goal of Copywork

Copywork Doesn't Always Work - All About Spelling

The primary goal of copywork is for a child to internalize the mechanisms of good writing—penmanship, spelling, grammar, and style—by copying a perfectly composed sample.

In theory, the more a child transcribes, the more proficient she will become in the English language. As she replicates good writing, the intent is that she will adopt the language skills found in the sample.

As a side benefit, the child is exposed to desirable character traits and virtues as she copies the chosen text.

Does Copywork Work?

Copywork is a rich and useful method of teaching many subject areas, but it isn’t always effective in achieving long-term retention in spelling. Here are a few things to consider before choosing to use copywork as part of your child’s spelling program.

Copywork lacks the direct spelling instruction that many children need.

Copywork doesn’t provide the phonetics-based approach that helps children make sense of spelling. Instead, copywork depends on memory to help a child learn to spell. If your child learns quickly and easily memorizes words through repetition, copywork may work well for her. Copywork can also be a good fit for kids who naturally find patterns in related words. But most children are better off learning to spell through direct phonetic instruction and systematic review.

Copywork Doesn't Always Work - All About Spelling

Copywork emphasizes visual learning.

Copywork focuses on the visual learning pathway but doesn’t include the support that many students need. Even a student who is visually inclined may actually learn best when instruction comes through all three pathways to the brain—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—instead of just one. The more senses we involve, the more learning occurs.

Copywork isn’t ideal for distracted students.

Since copywork offers limited sensory stimulation, it can be easy for a child to “go through the motions” of copying while gaining very few of the benefits. Such a child may get to the end of a copywork exercise with little memory or understanding of what he just copied!

Copywork Doesn't Always Work - All About Spelling

For some children, doing copywork switches their brains onto “auto-pilot.” It’s not unlike driving to the store and realizing that you’ve arrived safely but with no memory of the drive.

Copywork may be especially detrimental for a struggling speller.

Since copywork doesn’t provide the hands-on instruction that many children need, it can leave them floundering even while giving the impression that they’re doing well. A beautifully copied passage does not always translate into long-term learning.

The Real Goal: Long-term Learning

When I teach, my goal is long-term learning with the least amount of frustration possible. As many of you know, I tried dozens of methods for teaching spelling before creating All About Spelling. I’ve made it my life’s work to help kids learn easily and permanently. So when I created All About Spelling, I made sure that it was based on solid research and that it included:

  • Multiple ways to reach students using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic teaching methods.
  • Strategies for actively involving your child in the lessons, so you can keep his or her attention with very little effort.
  • Techniques for getting your child to recognize and correct his or her own spelling errors.
  • And dozens of tips for the teacher to help you maximize your effectiveness on every level.

A complete and comprehensive spelling program provides children—even struggling learners—with an extremely effective method of learning that takes advantage of how the brain works. While copywork may be a part of that method, it must be combined with activities that take into consideration all the pathways to the brain.

Wouldn’t it be nice if spelling could be EASY? Our free report, “Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy,” takes you on a guided tour of All About Spelling and the elements that set it apart from other spelling programs.

Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy Report

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Jana

says:

My son struggles with copy work on spelling. I have to orally call out his spelling list to make sure he is retaining it.

Kristin W

says:

I have struggled with spelling and have resorted to just memorizing the best I can. It has made my handwriting sloppy, because as a kid, if it was a little sloppy, it was harder to see the spelling mistakes. Copying words was pretty much all my spelling instruction, so I know that is less than helpful. My husbabd also really struggles with spelling. I’m looking forward to using AAS with my kids. My daughter should start AAR1 this fall, so it will be a year or two. I’ve even joked with my husband that we’ll all do spelling together!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristin,
There is a bit of truth about learning to spell better while teaching our kids. I know I’m a better speller now that I’ve finished level 7 with three of my children. 😊

Andrea D

says:

I only recently learned that copywork can be a tool used for spelling (not just exposure to good literature and a chance to practice good handwriting), so it is good to also hear the other side of the story! Thank you for sharing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Andrea. Let me know if you have any questions.

Amanda Pelletier

says:

My 9 year old is a proficient reader, but has struggled with almost incomprehensible spelling for most of her schooling. I’ve tried many different approaches, including copywork, but had the same suspicions about the true benefit of it. We started her on Level 1 Spelling and it’s made a noticeable difference. She learns best through movement, so I have her jump from our indoor “riverstones” for each letter sound I dictate, then she has to figure out what word she just spelled. Spelling has been less of a battle lately.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love that you have your daughter jumping “riverstones” for spelling, Amanda! What a great way to keep it fun and active. I’m very happy to hear that All About Spelling is helping to make a difference.

Rachel

says:

We are a family that tried copywork as a spelling method first, and I am SO GLAD that I moved my kids over to All About Spelling. I was noticing that my 1st graders were getting the same words wrong over and over again when they tried to spell anything independently–and these were words that were being used frequently in their copywork passages (they were definitely in the “auto-pilot” category, with one struggling speller). With only a few months of All About Spelling their spelling has turned around, I now have the tools to offer spelling reminders as they work on other projects, and even their 3 year old brother is recognizing spelling rules (though he is still a pre-reader).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Rachel! I’m very pleased to hear that All About Spelling has made such a difference in a short period of time.

Christine Conrades

says:

This is very helpful information! I have been homeschooling for 9 years and this is the first time I have heard this but it makes so much sense. I have started my 5th grade son in AAR Level 2 and he is making tremendous progress! I just wish I had found you sooner!! :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s wonderful to hear that your son is doing so well with All About Reading, Christine!

Nicole Foster

says:

I’ve been afraid of teaching spelling since I am a horrible speller myself. I learned through list and copy work. I love that there is a better option to teach my kids!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nicole,
Many a parent has found themselves becoming better spellers while using All About Spelling to teach their children. Even if you don’t, at least All About Spelling makes spelling easy to teach.

Let me know if you have questions or need help with anything.

Robin

says:

My 8 year old is an amazing speller because of AAS! We do some copy work because it gives them writing practice even if they can’t think of anything to write, but I don’t think of it as spelling instruction at all. I definitely feel like they need the tools to spell well rather than Just memorizing individual words.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear that All About Spelling is helping your child to become an amazing speller, Robin!

Alyssa

says:

I’ve wondered about this, thanks for “spelling” it out ;-)

Melinda

says:

Thank you for this research based article that presents the pros and cons of copy work.

Alice

says:

I really appreciate these tips on helping my struggling speller!

Lauren

says:

Great article! It’s so important for those well-written sentences to get into their brains by hearing, writing, and reading them.

Erin

says:

This is definitely true for my kids!

Amy

says:

I’ve found this to be true with my challenged learner. No amount of copywork has goes her like remembering the rules and patterns has.

Leslie

says:

Copy work doesn’t do much for my dyslexic child but AAS is working well.

Malinda

says:

It may work for a small group of kids, but for most kids I think explicit instruction like AAS is needed. I have one who spells great on his own, another who loves to read but can’t spell, two dyslexics, one who isn’t quite old enough to tell (about the spelling part) and a pre-schooler. Out of six kids, one spells naturally. We use copy work for other things, but we definitely teach spelling. My youngest is looking forward to starting when he finishes level 1 in AAR.

Rachel Krause

says:

My kids love copy work, but I don’t know that it’s helping with spelling. Too early to tell.

Julie

says:

I’m looking forward to learning with my daughter the spelling rules. I just learned this year that I never really learned Phonics, just memorization that didn’t stick and the same applied to spelling.

Rebekah

says:

This was helpful to realize that copy work wouldn’t be very useful for my active, easily- distracted, kinetic leaner middle son!

Michelle Schackow

says:

We have tried copywork too, doesn’t work with every child.

Sara

says:

Love reading different perspectives on learning to read! We love All About Learning products!!

Rachel

says:

My son and I have enjoyed AAR and AAS!

Rachel

says:

Love AAR and AAS!!

Jessica Wahlborg

says:

My daughter isn’t a big fan of copywork, but I try to have her do a few small things every week. I have her read through the passage first, then copy it, and finally, she reads it again. It seems to help her understand and retain more if she reads it. We also go over any grammatical, spelling or handwriting issues and she fixes them. It seems to help but it’s not my go to for school work.

My son HATES copywork. He’s a slow writer and easily distracted. Doing handwriting practice is enough of a fight, so I cut down on as much busywork that is in the form of copywork as possible. He certainly would not absorb spelling through copywork as he would be too busy hating it and being upset that he has to do it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This made me smile, Mindi. I have had a couple of kids that very much had this attitude as well.

Anna Green

says:

I have never used copywork as I work mostly with young children at the pre-writing stage, and also with dyslexic children, most of whom find handwriting arduous at the best of times. I have background training in the Montessori method, which is a multi-sensory approach, and my Orton-Gillingham training complements this. I don’t think I would ever set copywork for spelling although I acknowledge it’s use in handwriting training.

Christine

says:

One of my kiddos loves copywork for spelling and my other child just does not absorb it that way!! Thanks for helping me understand what’s happening in his mind a little better!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Christine. Isn’t it fascinating how people can learn the same material so very differently?

Sandi

says:

Interesting! I’ve had mixed thoughts about copywork. I love the idea of it – but am wary of methods that just assume the student will glean what is not directly taught.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sandi,
Copywork can be useful for many things. I used it a lot for handwriting practice and for teaching punctuation, such as punctuating dialogue. But it’s never been useful for my family for spelling.

Beth Freeman

says:

I am anxious to get started with this program with my grandson.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Beth,
Do you have any questions or need help with anything as you start? Let me know if you need help with placement or anything else.

Karen

says:

Love “All About Spelling.” I think the dictation phrases and sentences are a great way to practice the spelling words for the week. Excellent program!

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