I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Beginner's Guide to Copywork


You want your child to become a good writer? Then you have to start with good writing. 

You have to start with copywork.

Up until the 20th century, copying the masters was the primary way all children learned to write. Students learned through imitation. They saw GOOD, copied GOOD daily, and eventually created their own versions of GOOD all by themselves.

Great men through the ages learned writing through copying...perhaps we'd call it hacking today. Literary greats such as Benjamin Franklin, Jack London, and Robert Lewis Stephenson were word hackers long before they were ever word writers.

(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

Somewhere along the educational timeline, however, copywork was dismissed. Set aside. Overlooked for more sophisticated (or complicated) ways of teaching writing.

Thanks in part due to the works of Charlotte Mason and homeschooling, copywork has seen a great resurgence in recent years.

If you have a desire to nurture wonderful writing in your children, you don't need to start with a fancy curriculum or textbook. All you need is copywork. 

What is copywork?

In the simplest of terms, copywork is just written work that can be copied. A piece of copywork is a sampling or short passage from a book, essay, verse, poem, or any other writing that exemplifies QUALITY of word usage and sentence form.

When introducing copywork, all you have to do is select a short writing that you'd like your child to copy, hand it to him along with a piece of paper or notebook, and instruct him to copy the selection EXACTLY as it is written. I usually like to have my child read the passage out loud to me first, just so that I know he understands what he is writing. Sometimes we dialogue about the sentences. And sometimes we don't. 

What are the benefits of copywork?

I used to think that handwriting and copywork were one and the same. But while handwriting (the instruction and practice of forming letters on a piece of paper) is an important and necessary part of a child's education, it is quite different from copywork. Handwriting emphasizes one thing...formation. Copywork, on the other hand, teaches a multitude of skills. 

Through copywork, a child can learn the following:
  • proper grammar
  • subject/verb agreement
  • capitalization
  • punctuation
  • vocabulary
  • spelling
  • writing style
  • verb tense
  • parts of speech and how they fit together in a sentece
  • writer's voice
  • syntax
  • word choice
  • paragraph form
Copywork has also been shown to improve memory, focus, and of course, handwriting. All of this is learned gently, through modeling...through mimicking...through hacking. 

Perhaps Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise said it best in their book The Well-Trained Mind
"The purpose of copywork is to get into the child’s visual (and motor) memory the look and feel of a sentence that is corrrectly composed, and properly spelled, spaced, and punctuated."
In other words, before a child can learn to write well, he has to first recognize what good writing looks like, feels like, and lays like on the page. In the same way that a baby learns to speak by copying the sentence patterns, voice inflection, and accents of those around him, a child learns to write by copying the writings of others.

Once he has developed a palette or taste for good writing and once he has built up a storehouse of rich words and sentences, he can then begin to deconstruct all those words and sentences in order to form new ones of his own.

What can be copied?

While any works CAN be copied, not all works SHOULD be copied. Personally, if I am going to carve out time and space in our days for copywork and if I am going to encourage my child to lean all his efforts into the words on the page, I'm going to do my best to ensure that THOSE words are worthy of our investment. I don't just want him to copy any old piece of words. I want him to embrace beauty. And truth. And virtue. I want him to aim for words that will nurture his character.

My DIY copywork notebooks

In my home, copywork first begins with handwriting instruction. Since the beginning, I've used A Reason for Handwriting to teach formation. My kids each learn to print Scripture and a few years later, they learn to write it in cursive. Once they master proper handwriting, they transition to copywork. (Just like with reading...you must first learn to write before you can write to learn.)

When I first started out, I was unaware of all the wonderful free or next-to-free copywork resources available online. Instead, I invented the wheel all by myself. 

Using my very best handwriting, I copied 36 famous and noteworthy quotations and passages onto primer paper. I numbered each quotation to match the 36 weeks of my school calendar. I purchased a primer notebook for my kids and encouraged them to copy one quotation each week. Since we homeschool 4-days-a-week, they copied each passage four times before moving on to the next one. By the end of the week, they had a solid grasp of the grammar and mechanics of the passage and, as an added bonus, could practically quote it from memory. 

Copywork samples

When searching for copywork passages, I looked to men and women throughout history that exemplified character, that left a lasting mark on humanity, that were worthy to be copied. Because after all, if you're trying to build something, you must first start with a good blueprint. Here is a collection of some of my favorite copywork selections that I chose during the early years. 

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." ~Henry Ford

"Believe you can and you're halfway there." ~Theodore Roosevelt

"It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." ~George Washington

"Learn to do common things uncommonly well; we must always keep in mind that anything that helps fill the dinner pail is valuable." ~George Washington Carver

"Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company." ~George Washington

"More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent." ~Billy Sunday

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." ~Dr. Seuss

"The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances." ~Elisabeth Elliot

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." ~Theodore Roosevelt

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character." ~Albert Einstein

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." ~Abraham Lincoln

"Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day." ~Heraclitus

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." ~Winston Churchill

"May you live all the days of your life." ~Jonathan Swift

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing." ~Theodore Roosevelt

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." ~John F. Kennedy

Character Handwriting: endurance quotations

Other copywork resources

In the last few years, I've come upon some great copywork resources that have saved me a considerable amount of time. I no longer have to cull all those lovely character-building quotations, because someone has already done the work for me. Here are a few of my current favorites.

Notebooking Pages- Use a lifetime membership to create your own copywork pages or download any of the premade copywork packs.

Character Handwriting- These copywork notebooks feature passages that teach certain character qualities each week. 

A Child's Copybook Reader- These are Charlotte Mason inspired copywork books.

Big Fat List of Free Homeschool Copywork- by Free Homeschool Deals

Ultimate Guide to Free Copywork- by Amy's Wandering

President Quotes Copywork Printables- by Walking by the Way

A final word

Copywork is timeless. It's for all ages, not just children. If you want to be a better writer, you have to copy good writing. As a lifelong learner, I, too, have a copywork notebook (or common place journal, as I call it). Any time I hear or read well-crafted words, I jot them down. I practice them with my own hand. In doing so, I learn to write better. I learn to master my craft. I learn to train my mind to know good writing. It's what writers do.

If you want your child to be a better writer, you have to point them to good writing. You have to start with copywork.

My Common Place Journal


  1. Hi Jamie,
    Love your blog! I am curious as to your thoughts about dictation. The curriculum we use starts with copywork and then graduates the kids to dictation. On the first day they copy the passage, copy many times words that might be difficult to spell and make note of the punctuation. On the second day they review the passage again and then the parent reads it aloud so that the student can attempt to perfectly recopy the passage. I was just wondering if your research into copywork had uncovered anything about dictation. Thanks for all that you do:)

    1. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of dictation. I'm not a Charlotte Mason purist and so, I tend to use what I like about her methods and skip all the rest.

  2. This was a super helpful post! We are using A Reason for Handwriting and letter tracing/writing sheets for our kids of various ages, but I'd like to work in some copywork as they get older. I tend to reinvent the wheel too often myself, so thank you for compiling all of these resources - they'll be very useful to come back to!

  3. Thank you for this great beginners resource! I'm a new homeschooler with a 4th grader. I love the idea of copy work, but I don't want to create it all myself. Thank you for your resource list pointing me in the right direction.

    1. You are most welcome. Glad to know it was helpful!

  4. Hi Jamie! This is my first year homeschooling my kindergartner (age 5) and I was wondering, in your opinion and from the research you've done, what age should you begin copywork? Dominic is learning how to read/write simple words and short sentences, so I was thinking of getting him a composition notebook and having him copy simple sentences, just as practice. Maybe that's not the same as "copywork"? Since you describe copywork as copying a famous quote or excerpt, whereas I was simply going to have him copy short sentences for the purpose of formation and practice. Maybe I could try both? But obviously he isn't at a level where he could necessarily READ a longer quote yet, so sentences seem more fitting. Just curious on any wisdom or guidance you might have!

    1. You can begin copywork as soon as your child has mastered the formation of all the letters. For some kids, that's in Kindergarten, but for others, it is later.

      Yes, copying sentences is copywork. My youngest son currently copies one sentence a day from his Draw-Write-Now book. It doesn't necessarily have to be a passage from a famous quote or document. Many moms like to have their kids copy those types of things because it's killing two birds with one stone. But some just have their kids copy anything and everything...from an ad on the back of the cereal box to a sentence from the book they are currently reading. The point is...you want it to be a passage/sentence that has proper grammar and punctuation. Copywork is should be practice in handwriting AND grammar together.

      Start with an easy sentence and work up from there. Hope that helps!

  5. When learning to write in cursive, it is best to start with the lower case letters that use and upward stroke. If you want to know which lower case letters start with an upward stroke, open this URL - mycursive.com

  6. Have you checked this book out? its really helped with my 8 year olds learning. definitely recommend.


    1. No. I'm pretty happy with the copywork resources we use, so I've not looked at others. But this one looks like a nice one and might be a good fit for folks looking for something new.

  7. I’m interested in the character handwriting Copywork notebook you linked, but I don’t think it’s taking me to the right site.

    1. The company no longer has a website, but I think you can still get their materials though 3rd-party vendors like Rainbow Resources.

  8. Hi there, Thanks for all the info. I really want to use it, but am unsure if it will be a good fit. I have just started tutoring a 2nd grader and a 4th grader in writing. Would 4th grade be too old to do copywork? I used it when I homeschooled my kids when they were in K and 1st. I can't remember if I used it in 4th.