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Let's make copywork effective for our teens

It can be easy to think of copywork as being an activity that mainly benefits younger children as they learn to write, but I’m here to say that our teens and young adults stand to benefit immensely from this daily habit – it just serves a different function for a 14-year-old compared to an eight-year-old.

My two teen daughters are still doing copywork every day and it continues to bear fruit in their writing as it’s no longer about teaching the basic skill: now it’s about becoming a master. Authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, J.R.R Tolkien, Benjamin Franklin and Virginia Woolf undertook regular copywork as adults to improve their writing style so it’s definitely not just for primary or elementary school students. Imitation has always been a technique used by the great artists of every field.

Here are my top five tips for making copywork effective for teens:

1.       Ask your student to copy a whole paragraph of text. By the age of 11 or 12, many students are able to write paragraphs without tiring, and yet we still want to keep the copywork process short – aiming for ten minutes or thereabouts. As they mature, increased stamina means that our children can copy out longer works in a short time period, such as an entire paragraph or a highly complex sentence (which in some cases, can be a whole paragraph). This will expose them to more complicated and nuanced use of punctuation, including dialogue.


2.       Use texts with rich language and more mature ideas. We should aim to expose our students to more complex vocabulary and descriptive language which not only teaches them to spell more challenging words, it also increases their own internal word bank that they can dip into when writing their own unique compositions. Texts with higher vocabulary often feature ideas which are more mature, and this can lead to further learning or discussion about the content which is also a good thing.


3.       Use a mix of text styles. This is a great time to introduce speeches, essays, letters and historical documents into their routine so they become familiar with writing in these more purposeful forms of communication. It can also help them internalise historical details without evening realising it, and help them become accustomed with using different 'voices' in a piece of writing. My daughters copy a mix of literature, Shakespeare, poetry, speeches and more on a weekly basis with a balance of fiction and non-fiction. Presently my 13 year old is copying a speech by the great Greek statesman, Pericles, which is in the first person and is a high point of human oratory. Consider:

"I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like the present. They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valour.  And if our more remote ancestors deserve praise, much more do our own fathers, who added to their inheritance the empire which we now possess, and spared no pains to be able to leave their acquisitions to us of the present generation."


4.       Explain the context of the texts. When my daughters began copying Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, I Have a Dream, we actually listened to an audio recording from the National Archives first and discussed the historical significance. They copied the majority of this text over a course of 12 weeks and were able to meditate on its meaning in the process. It is really important that our students understand the significance of the text they are writing and how to place it in their mental gallery of history and geography.


5.       If possible, encourage the child to select their own passages to copy from their reading selections. This is the ideal approach in a Charlotte Mason education, though in our family’s case, it hasn’t proven especially practical. If your student can select their own copywork they are likely to take a greater interest in it, but still some children prefer not to have to make these decisions and are equally happy to have the choice made for them. The key though is to encourage as much connection as possible between their reading and their writing, so if your child is studying Macbeth for Shakespeare that term, try and pair that with copywork.


When I was curating the material for Level 3 of Copywork Cave, I had all these principles in mind. My daughters are now approaching the end of Collection 6 and as I reflect on the past two years, I am delighted that they’ve copied a wide array of adult-level texts, and best of all for me, they’ve been entirely independent through this process.

So don’t stop copywork when your children reach 10 or 11 – keep going for a little longer and watch that higher-level language, sentence composition and punctuation start to show in your teens’ writing.



P.S Here are some of the highlights from our Level 3 collections which were designed for students age 10-14:

Literature – Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, Gabriel and the Hour Book, The Jungle Book, The Story of My Life (Helen Keller) and Young Robin Hood.

Speeches from antiquity through to modernity – Rev Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth 1, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, FD Roosevelt, Pericles and more.

Letters, essays and historical documents – Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, William Wilberforce, Virginia Woolf, President George Washington and an eyewitness account of the Battle of Hastings.

Poets – Robert Frost, Louisa May Alcott, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Carl Sandburg, Rudyard Kipling and the ever-creative-with-punctuation: Emily Dickinson.

Shakespeare – Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew.

The Bible selections for Level 3 include verses and full narratives such as The Sermon on the Mount, Romans 12, the Gospel of Mark, the trial of Paul before Governor Felix, the story of David and Goliath, Isaiah 53, Ephesians 1 and the story of the birth and early life of Christ from Luke 1-2.

Find out what’s included in each collection by clicking on the icons in the Copywork Cave shop.


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