Copywork, Dictation, and Narration are buzzwords in the homeschooling community that leave some parents confused. Worse, some parents think they understand but are implementing them incorrectly. Improperly executed copywork is worse than no copywork at all. Properly done, these three homeschooling tools can help set an excellent foundation for writing. Here is a run-down of what they are, why you want to use them, and how to do include them for maximum benefit.
What is it? Copywork means you copy a selection from a work of literature. Generally, it begins with a simple sentence that a student copies onto lined paper, using a pencil so they can erase errors.
Why bother? Copywork actively involves the student in writing and practicing skills in penmanship, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.
How? Sit down with your child and assign a line of writing to copy. Ideally, this is selected from good literature that models excellent writing skills. If they need a little more tempting, try a line from a favorite book or a quote from a favorite movie. The key here is sitting down with your child. Watch as they form each word and instantly stop them if they begin to form a letter, word, or punctuation incorrectly. The brain takes snapshots of the words they write on the paper and you want to prevent them from forming a habit of poor spelling and bad grammar. Do not send them away from you to copy material independently; that defeats the purpose.
There is actually one more stage in between copywork and dictation and that is called Transcription. Transcription is simply copywork with an effort to not look at the original piece for each word. Have the student read a sentence, examine it, and attempt to write the entire sentence without looking up again until finished.
What is it? Dictation is where the teacher reads a portion of literature while the student writes out what they hear.
Why bother? Dictation builds on the many benefits of copywork by helping them learn to pay attention, listen carefully, and recall details. It also helps reinforce the copywork skills by including the auditory learning part of the brain with the visual aspect.
How? Begin with simple sentences. Do not read them word by word, but read the selection as a whole. It is easy to assume the student cannot remember, but they will likely surprise you. Read it once and then wait. Give them a chance to recall what you read. Wait until you are sure they need to hear it again. After a while, you’ll be impressed with how much they can recall with just one reading.
The same rule applies here: Watch what they write as they write it and help them avoid writing something incorrectly.
What is it? Narration is an entirely different animal than the previous two methods. Narration is simply the act of the student telling a story back to you, in his own words. It begins very early on, pre-reading, through discussions with you over things they enjoy. They might tell you all about what they saw on Curious George today. They might describe what happened in Sunday School. These are all methods of storytelling. Eventually, the student begins to narrate to you about the books they read. At the beginning of these lessons, it is common for mom to write or type as they narrate. Students can be encouraged to draw a picture of the story. These narrations can be assigned for copywork lessons, so the student can see their own words written in their own handwriting. Finally, the student narrates what he reads, not verbally to the teacher, but on paper, similar to a book report.
Why bother? Narration is a tool that can be used for the rest of their lives. Narration helps them process what they just read, converting it to their own words and helping them “own” the information, fully comprehending and retaining it. Hearing your child narrate helps you, the teacher, understand his level of reading comprehension. This is a great bonus for the teacher. The benefits for the child include the development of skills in attention to detail, organizing his thoughts, sequencing timeline events, and processing information. These are all excellent skills for writing, but processing information is a key point.
How? Keep lessons short and simple. Read a selection to your child or have him read it to you. After reading through it once only, ask him to tell you what was read. Encourage him to not feel pressured to share every detail, but to summarize the general idea. Ask prompting questions, such as, “Why do you think she did that?” and “What happened next?” Narrations aren’t just for literature selections; they are a great tool for summarizing science and history lessons as well.
All of these methods are best done in smallish bites. Aim for about 15 minutes per day to begin. If much time goes by in copywork and the student is getting frustrated, it can be put away and pulled back out the next day or later that same afternoon. They are methods that can be painlessly enjoyed by parent and student, yielding much fruit with simple effort.
To get you started, I’ve created a Free Fall Copywork eBook for you, which you can find over at Simblissity Cottage.
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