How to do copybook with your early elementary grade student

Copybook and dictation for grades 2 and 3 and up.

I am going to write a series of blogs on the sequence of writing instruction starting with copybook, then dictation, then simple retelling of stories up through writing of the first simple essays.

Writing is a complicated task. Most students who get bogged down in writing get bogged down because they are asked to combine too many tasks, none of which they have learned to do well, and putting those tasks together is, for them, an insurmountable task.

You should not start your student in writing until he has learned to read well, nor until he is comfortable forming letters with his pencil. This is where homeschooling CAN (not necessarily is, but CAN) be better to schooling in larger groups (coops or formal schools). In homeschooling a parent who is well in tune with the abilities of his or her students can time this well.

Your student is read for copybook (and later dictation) when he is comfortably reading aloud books like Amelia Bedelia or Frog and Toad without stumbling over more than one or two words per minute. In addition he should be able to copy a sentence from one of those books without it being taxing on his powers of concentration.

The purpose of copybook is to make beginning writing a fun experience for your student. My students got to pick a lined bound notebook at a school supply store. If you can get the 1st grade handwriting lining of the pages, that would be the best. In fact, all my students started with a lined composition book where the top of the page was blank (so they could draw pictures) and the bottom half of the page had the 1st grade supportive lining with the dash in the middle, so the student can form the letters with support.

We made a big fuss out of our copybooks by covering them in decorative paper or cloth, so the books were special to the student. Each student got to pick his own theme. We would go shopping especially for the covers for our copybooks at a place like Hobby Lobby. My theory is that when you make a big deal out of something, the student understands that this is important.

The first copy pieces in the book were short funny poems, a line from a story the student loves, or other material that the student really liked. Each copybook entry, after the student was done copying, was accompanied by drawings and colors, designs, etc around the margins, any way the student liked it, so the page looked like a Medieval illuminated manuscript. In fact, I would show them pictures of illuminated manuscripts to give them ideas on how to color their copybook pages.

Once we have established a like for copybook, I start making it an every day occurrence. My students would usually get to choose something out of the day’s readings, or out of one of their assignments to put in their copybooks. This could be a favorite segment from a prayer we prayed, a Bible verse we read, something from the book we read aloud in the morning, there are many possibilities for this.

The point is that your student should be writing in the copy book, first one sentence, then slowly increasing to a paragraph per day, by copying materials that are well written.

Copybook reinforces proper capitalization, proper punctuation, proper spelling, and it models good writing (if you select good passages to copy). It is an indirect way of reminding the student of all the proper mechanics techniques he needs to learn in writing. It is gentle, because the student gets to work at his pace, and he slowly gets to notice more and more about the mechanics of writing until he observes it all and copies it perfectly.

At first, I would just encourage him to copy until he is comfortable doing so at the rate of one or two sentences per day. Once he is comfortable doing it, start looking with him at things he might have missed: a capital letter, a comma, spelling, etc. Do not correct, but encourage him to find his own omissions by giving hints that he might have missed a punctuation mark or a capital letter, but let him find the mistakes on his own, so he increases his attention to the details. You are the teacher, so you know what he can handle in terms of the number of mistakes you want to work on at first. Do not insist on perfect at first, be content with a student who enjoys the process of writing, and help him enjoy, also, the process of hunting for the little omissions that he may have in his writing.

Copybook should be fun, inspiring, creative (with colors and drawing), and it should NEVER be used as a punishment. I am a firm believer that making a kid write 100 times, “I will not _________” (whatever the issue is) is a great way to enjoy the love of writing that most children naturally have in them when they start school.

Find other ways to discipline your students when needed. My personal take is that you never use school as punishment. School is to be a pleasure (as much as possible), not a punishment.

So, here is the deal:

1. get a bound composition notebook
2. Make a one or two day school project out of covering its front and back with some sort of decoration (if desired)
3. Make it clear to your student that this is a treasured book that he will be using for several years, and that the work in the copybook should be neat and fun and colorful, full of pictures and writing.
4. Start your student on a sentence from a book he likes.
5. Work up to several sentences per day.
6. Have your student copy a passage from your daily readings, from one of his books in one of his subjects… from something school related every day.
7. Give him ample time to color and draw around his copy passage.
8. As much as possible, let him decide what to copy.
9. … and finally, make a hunting game out of him finding his own mistakes or omissions.

And most of all, enjoy!!

About Lene Jaqua

Co-author of Classical Writing books
This entry was posted in Classical Education, Classical Writing Method, Copybook, Imitation, Literature, Penmanship, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to do copybook with your early elementary grade student

  1. IrieMomma says:

    I’m curious how to handle this / fit this in when one is using your Classical Writing Primer materials? My daughter is learning cursive, which would require one session of copying in a day. Then, we also have your CW Primer Autumn that we are working on. That would also require one session of copying in a day. But, I *love* the idea of a copybook. How does one do this if we already have those other materials? Alternate days? Wait until she is finished with CW Primer? Do you have any suggestions?

    And, for my older daughter. She has the Memoria Press Copybook Cursive (copying King James scripture and poems in cursive), but I’d like to do the copybook with her. Would you maybe consider the MP materials “cursive practice” for the day and then have her *also* do Copybook at a later time in the day in the manner you’ve described?

    Thank you!

  2. Lene Jaqua says:

    I would definitely not have a student copy all day long or duplicate efforts unless that student really loves doing all sorts of copywork. (And I did have one of those, but they are rare.)

    One copybook session per day ought to be enough, so either stick with the Primer, or perhaps do the copywork for the Primer work in your newly designed copybook. (I know students struggle leaving a workbook page blank, but if your student can live with that, perhaps this would be the way to start the copybook.)

    Same thing would go for the MP cursive work. I would not do duplicate efforts, but if you really like the idea of one book containing all the copy work, perhaps combine all copywork into the copybook. That would be appropriate if the book you chose is 1st or 2nd grade level and lined with that dashed helping line for early composition.

    Your other option would be, as you said, alternating, but even there you are dividing the effort between two things. It is one of the blessings of modern society that we have so many choices that we can do complete overkill in education. In the ‘old days’ that was not an option, so it was probably easier to just stick to one copybook practice back then.

    On the issue of leaving a page or a section of a workbook blank, I do think it is good practice to learn to do that sometimes, both for the teaching parent and for the student. We are perfectionists by nature, many of us, and we don’t like to see a blank page, but the fact is that there are too many good things to do in modern society, we cannot do them all. We need judgment to decide which things to complete and which things not to complete, and it’s our job as teachers to model that good judgment (with reasons for why we do it) with our students, so I actually think NOT completing something is a valuable lesson learned.

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