Handwriting and Copywork: Your Questions Answered

Questions about handwriting practice and copywork are common from members of our community. Let's dive into two of them.

Question 1—How do you recommend modifying handwriting practice for students with handwriting difficulties?

Handwriting weaknesses seem to be connected to the phoneme-to-grapheme link for both letter names and letter sounds. Much of the research showing improved skills utilizes saying letter names while writing. We can't ignore this key strategy.

I suggest that handwriting is viewed as a separate activity from Copywork and Dictation. Handwriting practice follows this rule: "Say your letters while you write." This is a key strategy for two reasons.

First, I have seen kids produce more perfect letters while saying the letter name, than produce illegible letters while saying sounds. It appears that saying the letter name is easier than saying a letter sound, resulting in greater writing skill. Over time, this difference disappears, but informs me that it is best to let handwriting practice be as successful as possible.

Second, handwriting is a good place to learn letter names. Some kids have difficulty combining all they need to know about text: the word, its sounds, its letters, its grammatical structure, its relationship in word families, its denotations and connotations, etc. There is A LOT to manage while writing! Practicing the skill of letter naming in handwriting, then letter sounds in copywork, helps strengthen each skill so it can be combined with other skills in writing.

Third, saying letter names can be helpful for spelling, especially for confusing suffix spellings or for unexpected letter combinations.

Engaging in handwriting is the practice of SKILLS for better CONSOLIDATION OF SKILLS in writing.

Some people refer to this theory as the practice of AUTOMATICITY for better CONNECTIVITY.

To better support your student with handwriting difficulties, take our online educator training class, Handwriting Struggle & Intervention.

No matter the terminology, think of practicing writing the way you think of practicing music. Original writing is like an entire musical piece. To play the musical piece, we must practice our notes, our scales, difficult measures, difficult phrasing, entire portions, etc. Then we have to practice putting all those individual skills together. Which leads us to Copywork and Dictation.

girl with glasses with pencil writing in notebook

Question 2—When doing Copywork, do you recommend sticking with one passage (1 or 2 sentences) all week? Copying the same passage each day?

When I ask kids to do Intentional Copywork, I give this rule: "Say your sounds while you write." This is key to tapping into the language system while writing. There are many reasons we do this.

First, we need to hold phrases and sentences in our working memory while writing, so we learn to manage more text, without constantly looking back and forth. This is good training for when we create generative writing and hold onto our original thoughts.

Also, we solidify the sound-to-symbol (phoneme-to-grapheme) relationship in words. We practice breaking words into syllables and other phonological strategies.

In addition, we hear the text. We hear the syntax. We hear the phrasing. These are all key skills connecting our written language skills to our spoken language skills.

I like to select a passage that would take my students 5-10 minutes to write. In Intentional Copywork, we follow the schedule outlined in our book, Trees in the Forest: Growing Readers and Writers through Deep Comprehension, in which we read and study one passage from text, adding bits and pieces of writing each day throughout the week.

On day one, we make notes or write on the passage's meaning, using the ideas shared in Trees in the Forest.

Day two, we practice words from the Copywork passage, using phonics, spelling, and word study strategies. These strategies are taught in our Foundations for Teaching Reading, Writing & Spelling online educator training course.

Day three, we practice studying the grammatical structures and punctuation in the passage.

Day four, we do Copywork of the entire passage (as able) and edit.

Day five, we use the same passage for Dictation, writing only as much as can be accomplished in 10 minutes. Then we edit again.

In this way, one passage is studied in depth throughout the week.

~ Rita

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