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 importantly—does it really work?
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 Content often comes from Scripture, poetry, historical documents, speeches, and other writings of historical or moral value.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 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.
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.
Though it is often recommended as a valuable spelling exercise for all children, if your child is among the roughly 71% of children1 who are primarily kinesthetic (tactile) or auditory learners, copywork may not produce optimal results.
And 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
1 Miller, P. "Learning Styles: The Multimedia of the Mind. Research Report." 2001. (ED 451 140)