Copywork: A Natural Way to Teach Language Arts

a blonde boy writes with a yellow pencil

Do you remember what it was like when your sweet little babies began to utter their first sounds? Did you run to get a textbook so you could teach them how to speak? Of course not! You certainly didn’t freak out thinking there was no way you would be able to teach them how to talk. 

Instead you began to say simple words to them like mama and dada. And each time they attempted to make the same sound, you excitedly cheered them on.

But for some reason, the thought of teaching language arts seems to strike fear into the hearts of many homeschool parents. There's no need for fear. 

Remember, you’ve been teaching your kids language skills since the day they were born, even if you didn’t realize it. 

How Children Acquire Language

Children learn language naturally. Just like your kids learned to talk without a Teach Your Baby to Talk board-book-textbook, they can learn how to write in a natural and fun way—a way that will help you both get excited about learning.

For homeschooling language arts, you can opt for a textbook approach like a public school does. Or you can choose the natural approach for listening, reading, writing, and speaking. A natural approach to language arts (like the one BookShark uses) immerses kids in all facets of communication in an age-appropriate way. 

Copywork: the Swiss army knife of language teaching methodsOne tool in this natural teaching toolbox is incredibly simple yet extremely effective. It’s kind of like the Swiss army knife of language teaching methods since it teaches and reinforces multiple skills. 

This tool is copywork.

What Is Copywork?

Copywork is simply writing down a sentence or passage from an example. While children copy from this example, they can concentrate on punctuation, correct spelling, and penmanship because they aren’t busy composing the sentences themselves. 

When we consider all that young learners are putting together at the same time, it’s easy to understand why writing might be overwhelming. 

Copywork reduces the overload.

Copywork is closely related to how your kids learned to speak. You, an expert in talking with many years of experience, spoke to them, and they imitated the sounds. And with each new word they acquired, you kept talking to them. Before you knew it, they were stringing whole sentences together—eventually grammatically correct sentences without ever being formally taught the rules of grammar.

With copywork, kids get to imitate both expert and experienced writers by writing the author’s words on paper.

Copywork—An Effective Way to Teach Language Arts Skills

In the natural approach, language skills aren’t seen as separate subjects to be taught, but as a whole. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever focus on a particular area. But your curriculum will be real books. 

When kids consistently use copywork as a part of their language arts studies, they encounter words in context and see how rules are applied. You will be amazed at how they naturally absorb rules of capitalization, punctuation, spelling, phonics, and other grammar skills. 

Go back to the idea of how they learned to talk. They didn’t need grammar lessons. But as they heard you speak correctly over and over, they mastered the rules of grammar and sentence structure simply by absorbing them. Sure, they made mistakes along the way, but you knew it was just a part of the process. You even thought their mistakes were cute.

Copywork: A Natural Way to Teach Language ArtsWhy Copywork Works

  • Copywork respects the way kids learn language skills and takes advantage of it. Kids learn to write from actual writers, not textbook producers, by immersing them in real writing.

  • Copywork reinforces skills they have already learned. Your students copy out of the books they are reading. They’ll encounter the passage within context. They will both hear it and write it.

  • Skills are reinforced in a natural, not contrived, way. Our kids can do countless exercises in grammar books and memorize a multitude of spelling words, but when they do those things out of the context of real writing, those skills often don’t translate to their personal writing. With copywork, students encounter words in context and see the rules of grammar in action. They know not just the what but the how.

How to Use Copywork

  • Start small. Think of it as building language muscles. Just as you wouldn’t have a child start lifting one-hundred-pound. weights to get in shape, you don’t want to overwhelm them with long, complex copywork passages. For example, BookShark copywork passages have been chosen with children’s abilities in mind. But every kid is different! You are the teacher, so adjust the amount of copywork if needed to fit your child. If the passage seems too cumbersome, either shorten it or stretch it across more days.

  • Though studying many subjects works great sitting on the couch, be sure they are comfortably working at a table or desk to do copywork. Sitting up straight with feet on the floor will help young learners both focus and form good writing habits.

  • We are more likely to embrace something when we understand the rationale behind it. So show your kids why copywork is beneficial. Talk about the fact that they will be learning to write from great authors. Explain that copywork will help them go beyond learning rules to actually applying them. 

Don’t Fall into One of These Copywork Pits

A pitfall is a hidden or unsuspected danger or difficulty. These are a couple of common pitfalls when it comes to using copywork in your homeschool language arts. 

1. Lack of Consistency 

Guess what? No matter how great any learning method is, sometimes kids will balk at being required to do anything. They would often rather be building LEGO bricks or coloring.

When kids think there’s a choice, they’ll usually go with whatever requires the least amount of effort (a lot like us adults!). Copywork requires focus, and it can be uncomfortable in the beginning for many children. That’s okay. 

For those who are especially reluctant, you might need to shorten copywork passages, or perhaps let them choose what they will copy that day. You can even set a timer for around five minutes so they know there’s an end in sight. But do require something each day so that it becomes a habit.

2. Not Valuing Copywork Enough

It seems too simple to be really effective, doesn’t it? Since most of us were brought up with a learn with constant drill-and-practice mentality, it’s easy to think copywork won’t really be that beneficial. If you don’t believe how effective it is and embrace it, neither will your kids. It’s amazing how much our kids pick up on our attitudes. 

BookShark Language Arts 

When your children study language arts the natural way as BookShark teaches it, they will really learn it. Not simply to pass a test, but in a way that truly makes them better communicators. 

Copywork is just one of the many ways your kids will encounter language naturally. With BookShark, all of the components of a well-rounded, natural approach to teaching Language Arts will help your students to grow in their abilities in a way that is developmentally appropriate. 

Get Free Samples of BookShark Curriculum