Copywork is of course a valuable habit in writing instruction, and it is most effective when children are exposed to a wide variety of texts on a regular basis, but why is variety so important? Well for starters, children who become familiar with different forms of writing find grammar and punctuation lessons much easier as they progress, as they will already have a rich memory bank from which to draw on to make sense of what can otherwise be abstract concepts. Let’s consider how different text forms complement one another to provide a well-rounded language arts education.
Poetry can tell a story in the briefest way possible. It is also where we first encounter rhyme and meter, and so become familiar with how language can be used to create rhythm and mood. So many children’s stories are told in rhyme and this is because children find it memorable and highly enjoyable. Poetry also exposes us to onomatopoeia, alliteration, metaphor and simile. A child who is used to copying lines from poetry each week will find it much easier to grasp these grammar concepts when they are older.
Literature is the primary place where readers get to know characters and encounter dialogue. By copying literature children will become familiar with the specific punctuation rules that govern speech, such as using speech marks properly. In contrast with poetry, children are far more likely to encounter complex sentences with multiple clauses in literature, and thereby grow in their sense of when and how commas, colons and semi-colons can be used to demarcate thoughts.
Memorable quotations are normally always about real life and the experience of an individual in the world. Through copywork they teach children how a single sentence can convey a profound thought that can encourage reflection, inspire or challenge an audience. The best of history’s quotes use words efficiently to create an emotional response in the reader.
Speech writing is a highly skilled artform and when crafted effectively, speeches have the power to turn the events that shape history. It is by reading and copying great speeches that we too can develop the techniques necessary for persuasive writing, as speeches are normally always written for the purpose of changing people’s minds or behaviour. Speeches are always designed to be heard rather than read, and so they are curated with the listener in mind rather than a reader.
Essays share many things in common with speeches, however they will often employ longer and more complex sentences and appeal more to the reader’s intellect and logic than a speech which will often trigger an emotional response.
Engaging with a Shakespearean play develops a child’s understanding of language even further. Plays are designed to be watched not read, but even so, a child who has regularly written out Shakespearean dialogue through copywork is likely to be far less intimidated by Shakespeare as their studies progress. They will of course encounter words they don’t understand, but they will also engage with some of the most loved and memorable phrases in the history of the English language, which is valuable in and of itself.
Non-fiction or informational texts normally include facts which children may or may not remember. They will however encounter specific words that may only appear in that context, and thereby practise spelling these words correctly. Whether it be dictionary definitions or bite-sized facts about science or history, copying non-fiction can often introduce children to a broader vocabulary than they would otherwise be exposed to.
Finally, there can also be value in copying particular texts because of their content, because they express values or ideas that we want our children to spend time thinking about. This could include philosophical or religious texts, historical documents or even pithy and memorable proverbs. This is not to be overlooked as developing a thinking and coherent mind is essential to becoming an excellent writer; the very best written works are not only packaged well, with good word choice and artful punctuation, but they also convey meaning that impacts the reader in a positive way.
These are just some of the ways that writing different styles through the habit of regular copywork can deepen children’s knowledge of how to use language to achieve different purposes, and how to do so effectively. It is not exhaustive but I do hope it has helped you appreciate the value of a varied copywork routine.