Friday, April 19, 2013

Copywork Part 2: Teaching Literary Elements

As I said in my post on Copywork andDictation Part 1: Teaching Mechanics, I love copywork as a tool for gently teaching all kinds of things, from grammar and mechanics to literary styles and that ineffable quality of “voice.” You can make a whole language arts course out of copywork and dictation if you want to.  So, in this post I want to focus more on literary elements, although my example below includes some mechanics I mentioned as well.

You can teach literary styles just like you can mechanics. I really think it just depends on what you make of it, and how you plan it out.  One year I focused on copywork/dictation as our main language arts.  Here's a copy of a Sonlight post I wrote that year about The Journeyman—how I chose passages and how I taught them:

First, here are some things that I look for in a dictation passage: Did I go "wow" when I read it? Did it strike me as powerful, poignant, a beautiful description? Did it have a great message? Is it good advice? If it's good to read, it's good to study and emulate. A passage I didn't get around to using, but has great description, is the sunrise on the top of p. 37. The two I did use, I'll post below.

The 2nd I absolutely love for it's beauty and it's power. The first I chose because I thought the message was worthwhile, and in many ways, what summed up Mr. Toppan's teaching also sums up mine.

"Will it always be beautiful, Mr. Toppan?"

"Yes," he answered with conviction, "if you keep true to your own feeling for beauty."

"What do you mean by keeping true?"

Mr. Toppan looked at him until his eyes seemed not to see the boy Jared, but the man Jared might become. "It's letting God have your life, so that your hands do the work He wants you to do. You've begun rightly, Jared, for that's the beginning and end of all my teaching."

Notes: I had my kids do this passage over 2 days (btw, from p. 31). I split it where the line break is. I edited some phrases out and the attributions to make it shorter. It's clear from context who's saying what, and I wanted to get to the heart of the passage without wearing out my children. We discussed what it meant when Mr. Toppan looked at Jared and the kids acted out that kind of expression. We talked about what the message meant too. 

We discussed the use of capitals (names, titles), abbreviations (Mr.) and commas in quotes (lots of practice here). We had been discussing commas in quotations and for phrasing, and this selection added a third usage—around the name of someone we speak to. (There's not one after Mr. Toppan because it's the end of the sentence, but there is one before, and then below there are commas before and after Jared's name when he's addressed.)

I don't go looking for passages that teach certain concepts necessarily—I look for powerful writing and then I ask my kids what they notice, then I point out what I notice, we look at literary elements, then we look at the physical aspects of writing. It gets easier as you get in the mindset of pre-teaching.

The 2nd passage we used: "It was a night for the stars to bless with light—for Eliza, who through the travail of her body had given a child to the world, and for Jared, who through the travail of his soul was giving a man to the world" (p. 98).

This passage might not display its full power until you read it in context, but when you do, wow. When I asked my kids what they noticed, my son noticed the parallel clauses right away—the two travails etc... We talked about why this was a powerful metaphor and what Jared was going through. We talked about em dashes and commas around clauses. This one would have been possible to also do from dictation (sometimes I put names or harder words up on a white board).

Sometimes I point out spelling patterns we are working on. For example, you could point out the igh in night & light.  Or that the wor in world is a pattern when "or" stands for the /er/ sound. The ai in travail. How to turn "give" into "given." I wouldn't necessarily go over all of these, just pick a few to focus on so it won't be overwhelming.

I asked if there were any rhyming words, and my daughter found those.  Things like rhyme and meter sometimes show up in prose and add to the beauty of the language, so it can be fun to look for these in addition to alliteration and other such devices.

By the way, this would be a great book to discuss foreshadowing! I don't want to post a spoiler, but I'll just say if you're looking for it, you can guess much of what will happen. This is a book to relax into and enjoy the beautiful language and the unfolding of the story line. There are lots of other passages one could choose for copywork, I remember almost every chapter having choices, you can't really go wrong in this book. Oh, here's another one: "The moon threw a silver cloak across his shoulders and before it was withdrawn, he was asleep" (p. 44). For that one, you could discuss how personification and imagery are used.

If you can’t think of anything great to discuss, that’s ok. It’s fine to just enjoy some passages, or to ask, “what do you like about this sentence?” and then tell your child what you like.  It's also fine to let your child choose something he or she would like to copy. Good literature is meant first and foremost to be enjoyed.

Copywork and dictation used in this way can be foundational to your language arts, or they can just be a fun extra to do as a break from your everyday language arts program. Use it all the time, or save it for just those times when you are inspired. Most of all, have fun with it!

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