A Simple Secret For Teaching Writing

Have you noticed how your children learn?  We see our tiny tots copying us, and we smile quietly to ourselves.  We demonstrate to our children how to use a knife and fork, a toothbrush, a comb, a pencil… And they learn by copying us.

We teach our children how to read or count and they learn these things by copying us.  Children learn by copying.

Now this is fine when we are talking about simple things, but what about writing?Learning to write is more complicated than learning how to brush your teeth.

Can Children Learn to Write by Copying?

Writing is a method of communication.  It consists of understanding, connecting, combining, reworking.  We use letters, words, sentences, paragraphs to communicate mood, experiences, thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideas.

And we learn this by copying.  We copy what we have seen others do, what we have read and what we have done well in the past.  Refining and improving as we go.

For a child, when she copies something written, she learns how to feel comfortable writing, and over time she will be inspired to make her own composition, gradually becoming more confident and adding more and more of her own personality to her work.

Gradually she will learn to write and write.  She will write stories, essays, summaries, lists, narrations, persuasive arguments and compositions of various kinds…  She will understand about sentence structure, paragraphs, spelling and grammar…

Children can and will learn even these complicated things by copying.

But Isn’t Copying Cheating?

If you copy in a test, or if you copy when writing at university level, then yes, it is cheating.  At university they call it plagiarism and consider it to be a very serious offence.

 But copying to learn writing and composition skills isn’t cheating.  Copying is the method that has been used to teach for centuries.  Apprentice artists were encouraged to copy and learn the secrets of their art from the masters.

Many writers learned their craft by copying. For example, Jack London, Benjamin Franklin, Hunter S. Thompson, Frederick Douglas, and John Quincy Adams all learned their craft by copying books written by famous authors.

 How do I Teach Copying?

One easy way to teach copying is to simply give your child pieces of writing, and allow her to copy it.  You may start with a sentence or two, written by a writer who was a master of his craft.  Gradually, your child will write more, and then she will start to create her own writing. Give her pieces from a wide variety of sources.  This will help to build up her repertoire of styles and will help her develop her own writing style.

It’s a copy-learn-produce cycle.  Your child doesn’t need to be original; he just needs to produce something.  In fact, no-one is truly original.  Even Shakespeare, considered by some to be the most creative genius who has ever lived, took stories from all over the place and copied plots from a variety of sources.

In fact, Charlotte Mason taught copying.  She called it ‘transcription’.  Here’s what she said about copying or transcription:

‘The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be … transcription, slow and beautiful work…Children should transcribe favourite passages. A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. … a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure.’  (Volume one)

What Happens Next?

Once your child has done some copying, he begins to understand, and then he can start to play around with ideas and content.  He will transform and fuse ideas into something new.   To begin with, he will keep close to the original.  For example, one of my daughters made up her own poem when she was four.  She had just learnt a poem that starts, ‘If I had a donkey, and it wouldn’t go’. Her poem was something along the lines of, ‘If I had a cat, and it wouldn’t purr’. You can see where she is coming from, but you can also see her creativity, can’t you?  This is the start of composition.

The End of Copying

After this, your child will start to combine ideas and thoughts and styles, and produce her own original piece.  Then she will modify and refine it, she will start to make decisions on structure, shape and design in her writing.  She is no longer copying, but creating her own writing pieces.  And then one day, you will see that she has learned how to write!

P.S. If you are interested in knowing more about Charlotte Mason, go to: www.CharlotteMasonMadeEasy.com and read about my online course for homeschooling mothers.

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