Friday, May 9, 2014

Poetry Study and Dictation

We are expanding our poetry study. We have always had some loose poetry study, taking different forms over the years. Beginning now, and heading into next year (we have accomplished most of our goals for this year, so we're getting a head start on next year), I am formalizing our poetry study a bit. 

We will choose a poet to study every 3rd month or so. (Artists and composers get the other 2 months). This month, Sagittarius,11, has chosen Longfellow. 

We will read books about Longfellow, some background of his life and times, and of course, we will read and recite some of his works. 

I have spent much of this year streamlining our processes. I have found that prepared curricula includes a great deal of overlap. I am breaking down the tasks and working them in to existing parts of our day. Narrations aren't just for history. We can narrate anything we read. Copywork does not need to be a separate exercise. Copywork can be integrated into whatever we are reading together. 

What is copywork and why do we do it? In short, copywork and dictation teach the child what good writing looks like. Their eyes see it, their hands practice it, their memories cache it. When it's time for them to create their own work, they will have solid models and practice applying the rules in the proper way. Correct work will come naturally. 

What is copywork? Exactly what it sounds like. For little children, I write out a short passage-one or two lines-in a three lined notebook. I like ones with half of the page blank for illustrations.  The child then copies the piece exactly, in his best handwriting, with correct capitalization and punctuation. 

For the older child, a longer piece, wide- or college- ruled notebook, and additional exercises increase the challenge. He can copy directly from the text. Sagg does this on his own while I tend to younger children. 

For 4th grade or so onward, we add several forms of dictation. 

I have not read Brave Writer's Writer's Jungle or used her programs, but from reading her blog, and online discussions, as well as doing a bit of my own research, I have devised our own program. 

We all know that dictation is the writer writing what is read or spoken by the reader. Direct dictation is very useful in creating quality writing. But there are other forms of dictation which help the process along tremendously. 

Dictation goes both ways. A younger child dictates to the parent, who scribes the child's words, then reads them back to him (with appropriate editing). This allows even the youngest child to create written work, long before his mechanical skills will allow him to write. If he can read, he reads his words back to the parent, and sees how they should look on paper.

When the child takes dictation, he has read a passage, perhaps copied it. Then it is read to him, and he must recreate it perfectly. This is a challenging exercise. 

Reverse  Dictation is copywork in which the piece is presented in written form with no capitalization or punctuation. The child rewrites the piece correctly. 

French dictation is a similar exercise in which the piece is presented with missing words. Just a few at first, then more and more words missing until the piece is just a very bare framework. 

By this point the child is ready to recreate the whole passage from memory. I have found that Sagg can recite the piece by the time I'm ready to dictate it to me. Show off. 

Here's an example of how this process works. 

Day 1: We read the piece, select a passage, and copy it.
            Today we are reading The Children's Hour. I will have each child choose a short passage to copy. I will point out the nonstandard spacing, capitalization, and punctuation, as well as the possessive apostrophes. 

            "Between the dark and the daylight, 
              When the night is beginning to lower, 
              Comes a pause in the day's occupations,     
              That is know as the Children's Hour."

Day 2: Reverse Dictation
            For this verse, I will remind the child of possessive apostrophes and nonstandard capitalization. 

             "between the dark and the daylight

               when the night is beginning to lower
               comes a pause in the days occupations
               known as the childrens hour"

Day 3: French Dictation 
            "Between the ____ and the ____ 
              When the ____ is ____ to ____
              Comes a pause in the ____ ____
              Known as the ____ ____."

Day 4: Straight Dictation
             I read the passage to the child, and he writes it, perfectly and neatly, in his copybook. If there are mistakes, I prompt him to find and correct them. 

At this point, he is usually able to recite the verse. If he wishes to do so, I will encourage him to.

Dictation and copywork are ongoing in our homeschool, not just limited to poetry study. We use this process with literature as well. Exposure to a great variety of writing styles increases the children's writing vocabulary. I try to choose beautiful, meaningful, picturesque works for them to copy from. I allow them to choose the lines that move them. They often choose longer pieces than I would have given them. They enjoy this process much more than I would have expected. 


  1. Do you write these out each time - for the reverse and french dictation? For each kid in their notebook? Love this idea....just wondering about the time involved and when to do it.

  2. Yes, I write them out by hand in their notebooks, exactly as above. Each of my children works at a different level. It takes about 10 minutes of my time for two children, one doing only copy work, one doing the whole process. They spend another 10-20 minutes (20 minutes for the 8 yo as he likes longer verses and mulls over and illustrates them when he's finished).

  3. Great article! Thank you so much!
    I would like to subscribe to new posts, do you have a newsletter? Thanks